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Lululemon to Make Clothing Out of Captured Carbon Emissions

Lululemon could soon be selling yoga pants made from pollution.

The athleticwear purveyor announced Tuesday that it’s partnering with biotech startup LanzaTech to create what is being billed as the world’s first yarn and fabric using recycled carbon emissions that would otherwise contaminate the environment.

LanzaTech, which hails from Illinois, employs “nature-based solutions” to turn waste carbon sources into ethanol, which, in turn, can be converted into polyester fiber.

The company sources its carbon from a raft of feedstocks, including atmospheric carbon dioxide, industrial emissions and gasified agricultural and household waste—textile waste included, it said. This gas stream then undergoes a process much like traditional fermentation, except instead of yeast eating sugar, microorganisms nosh on carbon.

Recycling carbon, according to Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, is a “fundamental element” of the circular economy, since it reduces the use of fossil fuels to generate polyester, which is often derived from fracked gas. This innovation could “transform” Lululemon’s products and those of the apparel industry at large, she added.

Polyester is the most widely used fiber in the world, accounting for 52 percent of the overall fiber market and roughly 80 percent of all synthetic fibers, according to Textile Exchange’s 2020 Preferred Fiber & Materials Report.

“We must radically change how we source, utilize and dispose of carbon,” Holmgren said in a statement. “Carbon recycling enables companies like Lululemon to continue to move away from virgin fossil resources, bring circularity to their products and achieve their climate change goals around carbon reduction.”

Lululemon said that LanzaTech’s innovation will help it advance its so-called “Impact Agenda,” which includes making 100 percent of its products with more sustainable materials by 2030. The brand recently debuted the world’s first yoga accessories made from Mylo, a mushroom-root-based faux leather.

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“Lululemon is committed to making products that are better in every way—building a healthier future for ourselves, for our communities, and for our planet,” Ted Dagnese, the company’s chief supply chain officer, said in a statement. “We know sustainable innovation will play a key role in the future of retail and apparel, and we are excited to be at the forefront of an innovative technology.”

The project is a group effort. LanzaTech is working with India Glycols Limited, a “green” petrochemical company, and Far Eastern New Century, a Taiwanese textile producer, to finesse the ethanol-to-polyester production.

“Since initially connecting LanzaTech’s Taiwanese joint-venture set-up with a pilot plant in Taiwan, I believed this waste-gas-based polyester formation would be a sustainable solution for the polyester industry,” said Fanny Liao, executive vice president of research and development at Far Eastern New Century. “We are happy to team up with [India Glycols Limited] and Lululemon to complete the supply chain for this historical project and continue working with LanzaTech towards our common goal for a better Earth.”

Lululemon isn’t the only fashion business experimenting with pollution. In April, London startup Pangaia released a capsule of hoodies, T-shirts and bucket hats featuring prints made with Air-ink, a water-based dye derived from carbon emissions.

But the trendlet started even earlier. In 2013, Newlight, a company from Irvine, Calif., unveiled AirCarbon, a bioplastic made by mixing captured greenhouse gases, such as methane, with microorganisms in a bioreactor. Last year, Newlight created a line of purses, wallets, sunglasses and smartphone covers, dubbed Covalent, to demonstrate the material’s potential as a high-end plastic and leather replacement.

“Covalent-brand fashion products are beautifully designed to protect the things we love, and reverse the flow of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas out of the air,” Newlight wrote on its website. “These products alone won’t solve climate change, but they empower people to turn fashion into a force for good, and demonstrate that greenhouse gas can be transformed into something beautiful.”