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Upcycled Emissions for the Win:
How Twelve Is Closing the Loop on Fossil Fuels

The California-based carbon-transformation company is emerging as a leader in ‘CO2Made’ products — from everyday consumer goods to sustainable jet and marine fuels.

For the past 100 years, humanity has been burning fossil fuels and pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate — and both the environmental and social effects can be seen globally. Climate change is an inescapable reality that threatens the stability of life on earth; and global emissions of greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide and methane — are the drivers of this change. But what if the carbon dioxide emitted could be reused and repurposed as a resource, whilst simultaneously reducing the need for fossil fuels?

The emergence of carbon-capture and -transformation technologies has made this a viable reality; and innovators including California-based Twelve are at the forefront. Twelve’s solution involves an electrochemical reactor that transforms CO2 into a feedstock for a host of products that are conventionally made from fossil fuels. The CO2 feedstock is primarily derived from biogenic sources such as ethanol plants, pulp and paper mills, and waste-processing facilities. Twelve plans to obtain CO2 from direct air capture once it has scaled.

As Heidi Lim, Director of Product Ecosystem for Twelve, explained to Sustainable Brands®: “We have developed a device that takes carbon dioxide and transforms it — it changes the molecules into chemicals, materials and fuels that today are made from fossil fuels. That’s what we mean by carbon transformation: physically changing molecules and turning carbon dioxide into something that can be useful — and with this, replacing the need for petrochemicals in supply chains.”

Eliminating the need for virgin fossil fuels

Currently, the carbon that makes up many of our products and fuels is accessed from fossil fuels in the form of petrochemicals. With Twelve’s technology, carbon-based chemicals can be produced without the need for new fossil fuels — preventing new emissions from entering the atmosphere.

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Through ‘industrial photosynthesis,’ Opus — Twelve’s electrochemical reactor — utilizes CO2, water and renewable energy to create the essential molecules needed for carbon-based products, producing only oxygen and water as byproducts.

Twelve says companies can customize and integrate Opus into existing production systems, thereby decarbonizing at the source. The technology is scalable due to its modular nature, which can seamlessly be integrated into existing industrial systems. With this technology, it is estimated that up to 10 percent of global emissions can be eliminated, with a single suitcase-size reactor converting the same amount of CO2 as 37,000 trees.

Twelve’s technology is fundamentally changing the perception behind how things can be made. The company is showcasing the possibilities of carbon transformation, offering a large-scale circular alternative to fossil carbon, reducing emissions in supply chains, and providing a viable pathway to a fossil-free future.

“We're estimating that we can address 2-3 billion tons (2-3 gigatons) of carbon dioxide each year — and that is going to translate into products that today make up a trillion-dollar industry,” Lim explains. “Petrochemicals are super wide-reaching; so, we’re talking about things as far-reaching as apparel, automotive, footwear, perfume and personal-care products. There are so many different areas where we get these basic chemicals from fossil fuels today — so, what if you could just get the basic building blocks for those from CO2 instead?”

So far, Twelve has partnered to produce a range of consumer products — everything from sunglasses with PANGAIA to detergent ingredients with Tide — as well as CO2-made products for Mercedes-Benz and NASA that are reducing emissions across their supply chains and operations.

Fueling the future

One of the industries most in need of decarbonization is fuel. Twelve has successfully developed a sustainable aviation fuel made from ‘electrified CO2’ called E-Jet® — the company says because the carbon is sourced from the air, not the ground, it has fewer contaminants than petroleum-based fuels; so, it burns cleaner — and will allow airlines to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent with their existing aircraft fleets. The company has formed partnerships with Etihad Airways, Alaska Airlines and Microsoft, the US Air Force and Shopify to scale its adoption. Twelve has also developed a drop-in alternative to marine fuels called E-Marine™, which counts Virgin Voyages among its first partners.

“As the world is quickly approaching the oncoming targets for corporate and national climate action by 2025, 2030 and beyond, carbon transformation gives businesses the crucial ability to begin closing the carbon loop now,” Ram Ramprasad, Twelve’s Chief Commercial Officer, tells SB. “We’re helping industry leaders and global brands take the steps necessary to continue providing the services and products consumers know and love, but for a fossil-free world.”