Your Moscow Mule Can Now Help Fight Climate Change
Vodka out of thin air... It may sound like a pipe dream, but Air Co. is making it a reality—and a sustainable one at that. The NYC-based technology company just unveiled a machine that transforms carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into alcohol.
This distillery of the future is the brainchild of Greg Constantine, a marketing-savvy entrepreneur in the entertainment industry, and Stafford Sheehan, a Yale Ph.D. who specializes in carbon dioxide conversion. The unlikely business partners met in—you guessed it—a bar, after being named Forbes' 30 Under 30 winners in their respective fields.
Sheehan explains that their innovation is an example of artificial photosynthesis: "Think of it like a tree," he says, "except much more efficient." In natural photosynthesis, plants convert energy from sunlight into glucose sugars by rearranging molecules of water and carbon dioxide. The Air Co. technology is similar, but it only requires only water and air—no glucose—to make ethanol, the alcohol you'll find in vodka.
Compared to the production process of your typical alcohol—which starts with a sugar source like corn, ferments it, distills it, then ages it—Air Co.'s is less resource-intensive. In fact, it's carbon negative, meaning the process takes more carbon dioxide out of the environment than it puts into it—roughly 1 pound more per bottle. "It takes a big tree, like a California acacia tree, around eight days to absorb the amount of CO2 that we mitigate with one bottle," Sheehan says.
They're not the only company putting carbon to good use.
While it may sound like a newfangled science experiment, converting carbon dioxide into usable product is actually not a novel concept. Today, there are dozens of companies that use atmospheric carbon for things like soda bubbles, fuel, and edible protein. Others capture carbon and put it directly into the Earth's surface for storage. The United Nations has long recognized carbon capture technology as a viable tool for curbing greenhouse gases in our environment, and investors are now pouring billions into carbon tech. (Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2030, the carbon-based marketplace could be worth between $800 billion and $1 trillion.)
The challenge is that carbon sequestration tech is expensive, and other carbon-reducing initiatives like renewable energy and reforestation typically make more economic sense. That's why turning carbon into a luxury good that people are willing to pay top dollar for, like a nice bottle of alcohol, is smart.
While Sheehan and Constantine will initially be producing their product in NYC, they hope to bring their compact technology (its dimensions are 8 ft x 8 ft) into more markets soon. This will further increase the resulting alcohol's carbon savings since bottles won't have to travel as far to make it to customers.
"It's so small and modular that you can place it anywhere," Constantine says. "One of the beauties of our process is that our technology doesn't need to have all that infrastructure around it. You can just deploy it wherever you have air and water—which is a lot of places," adds Sheehan.
To start, the duo's Air Co. vodka and gin will begin pouring in a selection of high-end restaurants in the U.S. this week, before eventually being sold online. Drinking responsibly just took on a whole new meaning.
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