This startup makes vodka from CO2 emissions, and it’s backed by Toyota and JetBlue

At Bathtub Gin, a reimagined speakeasy in lower Manhattan, patrons may yearn for the past, but they’re drinking vodka specially invented for a cleaner future. Air Vodka is made in part from greenhouse gas emissions, specifically captured carbon dioxide.

It is just one of a host of new products designed to take advantage of CO2 emissions that can be captured by various types of industries.

“We work with partners who capture that carbon dioxide before it’s emitted into the atmosphere, and then we use that CO2 in our process of creating the alcohols that we create,” said Gregory Constantine, co-founder and CEO of ‘Air Company, which is also producing perfume and hand sanitizer from these emissions. “It’s obviously much better for the planet as we remove CO2 for every bottle we create.”

Distilling alcohol the old-fashioned way not only releases its emissions, but it uses a lot of water – about 35 liters of water to produce one liter of distillate. Air Vodka is made from just two ingredients, CO2 and water. It separates hydrogen from water by electrolysis, releasing oxygen. The hydrogen is then fed into a “carbon shift reactor” system along with the captured CO2. This creates ethanol which when combined with water becomes a type of vodka.

The scientific process in airline labs is valuable for the environment, but the results don’t come cheap. The three-year-old startup’s vodka is a luxury brand, costing around $65 a bottle. But at Bathtub Gin, the vodka is the subject of praise.

A bartender pours a jigger of Air Vodka, a spirit made from CO2 emissions.

Nathanael Lee | CNBC

“Once we tell them, ‘hey, that’s how it’s done and it’s got a negative carbon footprint, all that really nice stuff, that’s what happens to make them want it even more And then they go in search of [it[, going, ‘where can we get it?’” said Brendan Bartley, beverage director and head bartender at Bathtub Gin.

The company’s sights are set beyond just vodka and perfume. Constantine said he expects to offer new products made of CO2 as it opens its third production facility.

“Vodka for us is really a gateway towards all the other products and then the industrial applications of where our technology can go,” he said.

Carbon capture is fast becoming big business, as companies look not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to keep necessary emissions from getting into the atmosphere. Captured carbon is being used to make everything from vodka to eyeglasses, laundry detergent, Coca Cola and even jet fuel.

The Air Company is backed by Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Parley for the Oceans and Carbon Direct Capital Management. It has raised just over $40 million to date.


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