Swiss performance sportswear brand On has found a way to make a shoe from carbon emissions. Together with tech company Technip Energies, chemical company LanzaTech and plastic solutions provider Borealis, On presents Cloudprime, a shoe made from CleanCloud EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam.
Cloudprime is part of On's efforts to move away from fossil fuels and use alternative materials to create high-performance sports products. This makes the Swiss company the first in the footwear industry to use carbon emissions as the primary raw material for the midsole of a shoe.
“Holding the first-ever shoe made of carbon emissions in my hands is a huge milestone – not only for On, but for the whole sports industry. Five years ago, this was barely a dream. Imagine what can happen in the future as we unlock the potential of alternative carbon sources with further research and in collaboration with the best partners,” commented Caspar Coppetti, On’s co-founder and executive co-chairman, in a press release.
The Swiss company has set itself the goal that every On product should be free of fossil fuels and completely circular. CleanCloud is the result of five years of work that started with finding the best possible partners. “This collaborative approach is key to overcoming the challenges of developing this complex technology at a commercial scale,” said On.
How does it work?
LanzaTech's technology captures carbon monoxide from industrial sources such as steel mills before it is released into the atmosphere. These emissions then enter a patented fermentation process. Thanks to specially selected and naturally occurring bacteria, the carbon-rich gas ferments naturally and is converted into ethanol. This natural fermentation process is similar to that of conventional alcohol production - brewing beer, for example.
The ethanol is then dehydrated by Technip Energies to produce ethylene, which is then polymerised by Borealis into EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) in the form of solid plastic pellets. And with this versatile and lightweight material, On can begin producing a high-performance foam for footwear.
LanzaTech uses a combination of cutting-edge genetic engineering, the latest biotechnology, artificial intelligence and innovations in mechanical and chemical engineering to produce chemicals with a process that soaks up carbon waste instead of expelling it.
“Today we continue our journey to show the world that recycled carbon is a resource rather than a liability”, said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech. “As we increasingly convert pollution into the products we use in our daily lives, we will reduce the need to extract more carbon from the ground. The partnership between On, Borealis, Technip and LanzaTech will change how the world thinks about sourcing carbon, enabling us to bend the carbon curve, keep our skies blue, and create a sustainable future for all.”
Technip Energies is responsible for the energy transition and for the process of dehydrogenating liquid ethanol into the gas ethylene, which is a monomer and the main building block of widely used plastics, while Borealis is instrumental in the production of easy-to-process EVA foam for CleanCloud.
“Borealis is thrilled to be part of this unique value chain collaboration. With our creative partners On, LanzaTech and Technip Energies we are proud to co-create circularity in carbon, and decouple plastic from its reliance on fossil-based resources. Through innovation and collaboration, we continue re-inventing essentials for sustainable living,” stated Lucrèce Foufopoulos, executive vice president polyolefins, circularity and innovation & technology at Borealis.
When will Cloudprime be in stores?
On has collaborated with circular start-up Novoloop on the CleanCloud outsole, which uses the world's first chemically upcycled TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) made from plastic waste. The outsole has undergone rigorous testing in the laboratory and by athletes, and meets specifications comparable to those of fossil derived TPUs, but with a significant reduction in the carbon footprint. For the upper, On is working with French start-up Fairbrics to develop a polyester-based textile made from carbon emissions.
Nils Altrogge, On’s head of technological innovation, answered the question when Cloudprime will be available in stores: “Our mantra when we look at innovative initiatives is to discover, apply, then scale. We have completed the application phase and are moving into scalability. This proof-of-concept is a meaningful step forward, while also signaling there is still significant work to be done. To scale this technology, across the industry, it will require enthusiasm and investment not only from fellow brands within the industry and consumers as well. Looking ahead, On is working to incorporate the CleanCloud technology into our footwear and apparel within the next three to five years.”