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Product, Service & Design Innovation
LanzaTech, lululemon Partner to Create First Fabric Made from Recycled Carbon Emissions

The carbon-capture experts and the high-end yoga pants purveyor have developed a waste-gas-based polyester with the same appearance, properties and functionality of virgin polyester — a lower-carbon potential game-changer for the apparel industry.

Biotech startup LanzaTech has partnered with high-end athletic apparel brand lululemon to create the world’s first yarn and fabric made from captured carbon emissions. LanzaTech uses nature-based solutions to produce ethanol from waste carbon sources; for this partnership, it is working with ‘green’ petrochemical manufacturer India Glycols Limited (IGL) and Taiwanese textile producer Far Eastern New Century (FENC) to convert its ethanol to polyester.

LanzaTech — which won both the People’s Choice and Target Overall Winner awards at the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open in 2015 — compares its carbon-recycling technology to that of a brewery; but instead of using sugars and yeast to make beer, industrial pollution is converted by bacteria to fuels and chemicals.

Recycling carbon emissions is a fundamental element of a circular economy, which will keep fossil carbon in the ground — reducing pollution and fossil fuel usage when used to make value-added products such as polyester. FENC says its FENC® TOPGREEN® Bio3-PET fiber, a waste-gas-based polyester made from LanzaTech's ethanol, possesses not only the same appearance but also the same properties and functionality of virgin polyester. With a lower carbon footprint, this upcycled textile could transform both lululemon’s products and the apparel industry at large.

“We must radically change how we source, utilize and dispose of carbon,” says LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren. “Carbon recycling enables companies like lululemon to continue to move away from virgin fossil resources, bring circularity to their products, and achieve their climate change goals around carbon reduction. We call this being 'CarbonSmart.'”

In October, lululemon released its first Impact Agenda, outlining its multi-year strategies to address critical social and environmental issues with 12 goals to drive progress. The partnership with LanzaTech is one of the many ways lululemon is focused on bringing new technologies to the business.

“We know sustainable innovation will play a key role in the future of retail and apparel, and we are excited to be at the forefront of an innovative technology,” says Ted Dagnese, Chief Supply Chain Officer at lululemon. “Our partnership with LanzaTech will help lululemon deliver on our Impact Agenda goals to make 100 percent of our products with sustainable materials and end-of- use solutions, moving us toward a circular ecosystem by 2030.”

The business world’s focus on developing the greenhouse gas emissions-reduction solutions critical to ensuring our continued ability to live and thrive is yielding more and more innovative partnerships, processes and products — including carbon-negative fashion accessories now available from Newlight TechnologiesCovalent brand and a forthcoming, lower-footprint Tide®, to name a few. LanzaTech is poised to be a major player in these efforts — having so far brought its carbon-capturing and -recycling technology to airlines, home care companies, fragrance companies and now textile production.

Industrial emissions, such as those from a steel mill, would otherwise be combusted and emitted as GHGs and particulate emissions harmful to the health of our planet and our communities. By capturing these and reusing the carbon to make yarn, the finished garments not only have a lower carbon footprint but ensure community pollution levels are reduced. Once textiles made from these chemicals reach the end of their useful life, they can be gasified and fermented by LanzaTech’s process. In this sense, the pathway promotes circularity, keeping the carbon in the material cycle.

“Since initially connecting LanzaTech's Taiwanese joint-venture setup with a pilot plant in Taiwan, I believed this waste-gas-based polyester formation would be a sustainable solution for the polyester industry,” says Dr. Fanny Liao, EVP of RD & BD at FENC. “We are happy to team up with IGL and lululemon to complete the supply chain for this historical project and continue working with LanzaTech towards our common goal for a better Earth.”