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Unilever hopes to clean up with recycled carbon

Unilever has developed a key ingredient in many household cleaning and laundry products from recycled industrial carbon emissions rather than fossil fuels.

Work with partners LanzaTech and India Glycols has produced a surfactant being used in Omo/Persil laundry capsules unveiled in China on 22 April – World Earth Day.

Surfactants are a critical ingredient for creating the foam and cleaning action of many household cleaning and laundry products, from dish soaps to fabric detergents. Unilever says this is the first time a surfactant using captured carbon emissions has come to market in a cleaning product. Unilever intends eliminating fossil-fuel based chemicals from its cleaning and laundry product formulations by 2030.
The process involves three key stages:

  • Capture: LanzaTech uses biotechnology to capture waste industrial emissions at its Shougang plant in Beijing and converts the emissions to ethanol.
  • Conversion: India Glycols converts the ethanol into ethylene oxide, a key feedstock, at its site in India.
  • Formulation: Unilever uses the surfactant in the capsules being manufactured at its Hefei factory in China.

A recent report from the Nova Institute and Unilever estimates that demand for fossil-derived chemicals will more than double by 2050. Renewable carbon production will need to increase by a factor of 15 to phase out the use of fossil carbon in consumer products by that date.

Peter ter Kulve, president home care, Unilever says: ‘Advancements in technology like this mean we can now reinvent the chemistry of our products. Instead of valuable carbon being released directly into the atmosphere, we can capture it and recycle it in our products instead of using fossil fuels.
‘We want to make sustainability easy for everyone that uses our products. Innovations like this help move our iconic cleaning brands away from fossil fuels without compromising on performance or affordability. We’re excited by the potential that this breakthrough represents for future innovations across our portfolio and our industry.’

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