News: Nike is commercialises AirCarbon biomaterial for CO2 reduction

Nike is collaborating with biotech company Newlight Technologies to reduce its carbon footprint by using the biomaterial AirCarbon


Author: House of Eden

  • Nike collaborates with Newlight Technologies
  • The biotechnology company develops regenerative practices for the production of biomaterial: AirCarbon
  • AirCarbon could herald the future of sustainable production

Nike's recent collaboration focuses on a regenerative technology that could significantly advance sustainable manufacturing. The collaboration partner Newlight Technologies, a biotechnology company, uses marine microorganisms to convert air and greenhouse gases (CO2e) into natural biomaterial. This can be melted and then shaped and processed into new products. The name of the trend-setting material: AirCarbon.

How did the idea for AirCarbon come about?

Trends like regenerative design or architectural bionics prove that innovation does not necessarily mean new. Innovation often also happens through the imitation of nature, the transfer of biological processes into technical processes. And it is precisely this potential that Newlight Technologies has recognized: The company mimics the natural process in which trees pull carbon from the atmosphere to form new leaves or coral reefs extract carbon from seawater to grow.

On the basis of this knowledge, Newlight Technologies has been developing a technology that makes use of nature to produce a material to improve the quality of life and environmental balance since 2003. The AirCarbon material consists of microorganisms that were found in the sea during the 18-year period of research. These microorganisms feed on methane or carbon dioxide and therefore form a kind of muscle in their cells. The PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate) molecule.

Since the discovery of the microorganisms, however, there is no longer any need for oceanic excursions. The production process consists of growing batches of the microorganisms, putting one part of the batch into the next, and extracting cells from the other part with PHB. The biomass of the microorganisms is separated from the molecule so that really only the PHB becomes part of a product. So once the molecule has been extracted, it can be turned into a fine white powder. This is fusible and therefore a productive substitute for things like plastic.

How does AirCarbon production work?

The first production facility for the alternative substance is located near Los Angeles and consists of a large stainless steel tank filled with salt water. An artificial piece of ocean. Here, Newlight Technologies uses the natural, non-genetically modified microorganisms and adds gases to them as a source of food. This will fill them up with PHB. As soon as this basic process is completed, the batches are then sent to the next building, where they go through a high-pressure filtering process.

The simple principle: The biomass of the micromass goes through the filter, so that only PHB remains. Then it is rinsed with water and a pure but moist mass is created. So it's time to put them in a dryer to get the white powder. For the end product, it is heated in an extruder, melted and then passed through water, so that long and firm strands are created. These are crushed into pellets - the "currency" of today's plastics industry.

Not only can pellets be made into a variety of products using many different techniques. Glasses, for example, are created using the so-called injection molding process, while the addition of coconut shells with activated charcoal to long strips of PHB pellets results in an imitation leather. This proves: The biomaterial is a productive substitute - Due to its meltability, it is adaptable as well as malleable and can thus replace plastic or leather.

What distinguishes the biomaterial from other "sustainable" materials?

Even though there are already a lot more sustainable leather alternatives available, there is one decisive difference to AirCarbon: the CO2 footprint. The biomaterial is carbon-negative and therefore has no comparable competition, at least in terms of environmental balance. And it is precisely for this reason that global player Nike decided to enter into a collaboration with Newlight Technologies. AirCarbon aims to help the company further reduce its impact on the planet - and thus its carbon footprint. 

Sustainability meets functionality

The core of the cooperation is to find out together how AirCarbon can be used so that as much CO2 as possible is reduced. It's about where the use is productive - and not only from the point of view of sustainability, but also from the point of view of performance. After all, Nike stands for high quality and functional sports fashion. In any case, it is clear that an AirCarbon sole will be created. For everything else, the collaboration partners will do their best.

Nike x Newlight Technologies symbolizes the pioneering step that PHB capacities are now available on a commercial scale through the regenerative process. Means: The company comes to a point where it can make more material available to the industry so that brands can really do something with it. The company wants to become a more important part of the fashion industry. Especially due to the multitude of possible uses and solutions.

What's next: the future model of innovation and regeneration

In addition to providing a sustainable biomaterial, Newlight Technologies is also helping to change social consciousness through its commercial launch of AirCarbon. Towards more innovation and regenerative practices that can inspire environmentally friendly products. This is important because today we no longer achieve sustainability through guidelines. Rather, it is about developing sustainable processes that are in harmony with the environment. So while it is not yet clear where exactly the collaboration between Nike and Newlight Technologies will lead, it is clear that it is essential to give regenerative practice a high-reach platform.

It should not be forgotten that industrial giants like Nike often do greenwashing. To meet customer demand and adapt to the zeitgeist. However, the collaboration shows a genuine interest in fundamentally revolutionizing production processes and making them more sustainable in essence. And so it is definitely a step in the right direction.



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