Turning air into foam to bring a running shoe sole to life? Such is the feat that the Swiss “On” managed to achieve. This sneaker, the Cloudprime, is made from a new type of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate). This is a foam material called CleanCloud. This uses carbon emissions contained in the atmosphere as a raw material. In short, these sneakers don’t lack air.
Instead of considering carbon emissions from human activities as useless waste, we decided to consider them as resources. To achieve this tour de force that is the CleanCloud approach, the Swiss manufacturer of sports products has joined forces with three innovative companies that are evolving in the field of biochemistry, processes and materials. “Holding the first shoe made from carbon emissions in my hands is a huge milestone – not just for On, but for the entire sports industry.”explains Caspar Coppetti, co-founder and co-executive president of On.
A process that uses CO2 as a raw material
It took no less than four years to bring the CleanCloud project to life. Step one: capture carbon and transform it. For this, LanzaTech has developed a technology to capture the carbon emitted by factories to transform it into a patented ethanol, CarbonSmart. In concrete terms, LanzaTech recovers the CO2 produced by a steel plant before carrying out a gaseous fermentation.
For this, carbon dioxide is collected by an electrolysis process, purified and finally transformed into ethanol by fermentation using… rabbit intestinal bacteria. These bacteria sort of “digest” carbon dioxide, much like fermentation occurs in brewing beer.
2 tons of carbon emissions to make 1 ton of ethanol CarbonSmart
Making one ton of CarbonSmart ethanol requires the use of 2 tons of CO2. This means less carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Since 2021, the company has removed around 150,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere and aims to manufacture around 500 million tonnes of CarbonSmart ethanol by 2023.
“Recycled carbon is a resource, not a liability. As we convert more and more pollution into products we use in our daily lives, we will reduce the need to extract more carbon from the ground.”says Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech.
Carbon emissions that turn into foam
Technip Energies then springs into action. This takes care of the dehydration process of ethanol into bioethylene. Ethylene, an unsaturated hydrocarbon, is a monomer and is the main element in plastics. Finally, Borealis – a company strongly committed to the circular economy – specializes in transforming this monomer into small solid plastic granules.
Granules that will be used by On as a basis for the manufacture of high performance EVA foam. The latter will be integrated into the Cloudprime running shoe. A shoe whose performance and durability rivals a shoe with EVA foam created from fossil resources.
Cloudprime, a green shoe from start to finish
In addition to this revolutionary EVA foam, On collaborates with the circular start-up Novoloop on the sole. A sole made from the world’s first chemically repurposed TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). A TPU made from post-consumer plastic waste.
Finally, regarding the upper, On has partnered with the young French startup Fairbrics. This will create a polyester-based fabric also made from carbon emissions.