The Swiss sports brand has created a supply chain coalition with LanzaTech, Borealis and Technip Energies to transform captured carbon into running shoes.
This week, Swiss sports brand On unveiled Cloudprime — the first shoe made from carbon emissions. This is a significant step in On’s journey to move away from petroleum-based resources by creating a new foam material called CleanCloud™ — made from carbon emissions. On is the first company in the footwear industry to explore carbon emissions as a primary raw material for a shoe’s midsole — specifically ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, which could also be used in other shoe parts and products in the future.
With its bouncy, foam-like feel, conventional (read: petroleum-based) EVA has become a popular material for footwear, particularly soles; but a growing number of brands — including Allbirds, Reebok and Timberland — have begun incorporating plant-based alternatives for increased sustainability. On is the first company to turn captured carbon into EVA.
“It's a win-win situation: We are capturing emissions before they pollute our atmosphere and are at the same time moving away from fossil-based materials,” explains Caspar Coppetti, On’s co-founder and Executive Co-Chairman. “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.”
On’s ambitions are high: The brand envisions a near future where every On product is fossil free and fully circular. CleanCloud is the result of five years of dedicated work, thanks to a unique supply chain partnership with LanzaTech, Borealis and Technip Energies — a symbiotic approach that will be key to overcoming the challenges of developing this complex technology at a commercial scale.
With expertise in synthetic biology, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and machine learning coupled with engineering, LanzaTech has created a platform that converts waste carbon into new everyday products that would otherwise come from virgin fossil resources. The company has continued to expand applications of its game-changing carbon-capture and -transformation technology and partner with major companies to scale its impacts. In the past year alone, the startup has joined forces with Coty, to create carbon-negative ethanol for fragrance production; with lululemon, to develop polyester made from recycled carbon emissions; with Bridgestone Americas — to develop the first dedicated end-of-life tire-recycling process; and with Danone, to turn captured carbon directly into monoethylene glycol — a key building block for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin, fibers and bottles. And in January, LanzaJet — LanzaTech’s sustainable fuels technology arm — received a $50M capital infusion from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund to help scale and lower costs of sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel.
“Today, we continue our journey to show the world that recycled carbon is a resource, rather than a liability,” says LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren. “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 a leading engineering and technology company in charge of dehydrating ethanol into the gas, ethylene — the most important building block of widely used plastics.
“Technip Energies is proud to be supporting On in this exciting project to make CleanCloud a reality,” says Bhaskar Patel, Technip’s SVP of Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals & Circularity. “The application of our Hummingbird technology to produce bio-ethylene is one step to a more sustainable future. We look forward to working with the On team to scale up and help bring CleanCloud™ to the world.”
“Borealis is thrilled to be part of this unique value chain collaboration,” says Lucrèce Foufopoulos, EVP of Polyolefins, Circularity and Innovation & Technology at Borealis — a leading provider of advanced, circular and renewable plastic solutions essential in creating high-performance, easy-to-process EVA foam. “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.”
Here’s how it works: LanzaTech captures carbon monoxide emitted from industrial sources such as steel mills before being released into the atmosphere. Once captured, these emissions enter a patented fermentation process. Thanks to specially selected and naturally occuring bacteria, the carbon-rich gas ferments naturally and is converted to ethanol in a process similar to that of conventional alcohol production (e.g., beer brewing). Technip then dehydrates the ethanol to create ethylene, which is then polymerized by Borealis to become EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) in a form of solid small plastic pellets — the versatile and lightweight material that On uses as a performance foam for shoes.
On is also collaborating with circular startup Novoloop on the CleanCloud outsole, by utilizing the world’s first chemically upcycled thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) from post-consumer plastic waste. The outsole was put under rigorous lab and athlete testing, meeting specifications comparable to fossil-derived TPUs with a significant carbon footprint reduction. For the upper, On is collaborating with young French startup Fairbrics to create a polyester-based textile made from carbon emissions.