A California startup is turning greenhouse gas into a biodegradable plastic alternative that’s being used by Shake Shack, Nike, and H&M
January 10, 2023
The decades-long fight against climate change has taught us that greenhouse gases—the product of burning fossil fuels—are to be captured, taxed, or cut altogether. But 20 years ago, entrepreneurs Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel thought of carbon differently—as a possible ingredient in products we use every day.
Now, their Huntington Beach, Calif., firm Newlight Technologies is converting greenhouse gas into a biodegradable replacement for plastic through a process that piggybacks on the one microbes use to eat methane leaking from the ocean floor (and consume oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon). The company’s meltable bioplastic, called AirCarbon, has been used to make over 50 million products, including Shake Shack straws and cutlery as well as sunglasses and wallets, and soon will be found in Nike and Sumitomo products. Newlight, which has raised more than $106 million, in July signed a 15-year deal to open a new commercial AirCarbon reactor in Ohio that will allow it to churn out hundreds of millions more products.
“If you can use greenhouse gas as a resource to make useful products then you can create a market-driven, consumer-driven solution to this challenge,” Herrema says. “The potential scalability of that concept, where we’re not talking about subsidization or taxation, but in fact just commercial manufacturing, was immensely compelling to us.”