It’s no mystery why an energy company might explore applications for gaseous waste emitted from its power plants, but making shoes isn’t usually on the agenda. For NRG, shoes made from carbon dioxide emissions are just the beginning.
NRG began making its “Shoe Without A Footprint” sneakers by capturing effluent from power plants, cooling it, and separating out the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then becomes the base of a chemical that is used to create the polymer that forms the shoe’s supportive foam. NRG has kept the details under wraps due to the proprietary nature of the process. To produce the shoe, the energy company worked in partnership with 10xBeta and D’wayne Edwards, a former Design Director at Nike.
Some reports have stated that only the shoe’s sole or half its materials are made from the foam, but Marcel Botha, the CEO of 10xBeta, told Business Insider that the foam was used to make approximately 75 percent of the sneakers.
“The Carbon XPRIZE is all about turning CO2 into products that people would use everyday,” Paul Bunje, the X Prize Foundation’s principal scientist, told Business Insider. “NRG wanted to show some leadership by manifesting what we’re talking about.”
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The prototype shoes are a demonstration of what could come out of the competition. Competing for a total prize purse of $20 million, the 47 entrants have plans to turn carbon dioxide into cement, plastics, fuels, agricultural products and much more.
Currently in Round 1, the entrants are selecting either the natural gas or coal track and submitting both technical and business information about their proposed solutions. Up to 15 semi-finalists in each track will be announced on October 15th and move on to build and test their products over the following two years. The teams will need to demonstrate their technologies – in a controlled environment for Round 2 and at two power plant test facilities for Round 3 – and they will be scored on how much carbon dioxide they convert and the net value of their products. Just five teams will move onto Round 3 and share a $2.5 million milestone purse, and each track winner in Round 3 will be awarded a $7.5 million grand prize.
NRG has goals to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050 below a 2014 baseline, and was among the 114 companies that committed to set science-based emissions reduction targets at COP21. Accordingly, the company has been investing renewable energy projects including a large-scale renewable energy collaboration with Dow Chemical announced earlier this year.