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  • Writer's pictureMirela Tury Pastorini

The first running shoes made from carbon emissions represent a milestone in the quest to become circular in carbon

Creating a circular future for our industry is a bold ambition, and achieving it is non-negotiable. Significant progress has been made: an increased focus on design for reuse and recycling, the development of pioneering digital watermark technology, and advancements in mechanical and chemical recycling are all providing evidence that we’re on a path to a more circular future— but recycling alone isn’t a silver bullet for plastic’s sustainability challenges.

In order to truly call our industry ‘circular’, we need to consider the plastics lifecycle as a whole — crucially, we also need to become circular in carbon. Borealis’ Circular Cascade Model sets out a holistic approach to achieving true circularity, including a gradual shift from fossil-based feedstocks to ‘A-B-C’ alternatives — Atmospheric carbon, Bio-based carbon, and Circular Carbon from recycled feedstocks.

© Borealis

Many of the technologies needed to realise the vision of the Circular Cascade are already at a mid-stage of development — the exception is that needed for atmospheric carbon capture, which is still at an early stage of commercialization. Despite this, exciting developments around the world show that the technology is moving beyond the demonstration into more and more commercial-scale investment projects.

A landmark moment in the use of atmospheric carbon based feedstock

One such breakthrough was announced last summer by Swiss sports brand On. Their launch of Cloudprime made from CleanCloud™ — the first running shoe sole made from carbon emissions — represents a landmark moment in the use of atmospheric carbon based feedstock in the footwear and polymer industry.

© Borealis

An inspirational example of the Everminds™ spirit in action, the shoe is the result of intensive work over three years involving On and Borealis, as well as partners LanzaTech, a market leader in carbon recycling technology, and Technip Energies, an engineering and technology company specialising in the green energy transition.

How it works:

The state-of-the-art process used to make CleanCloud proof of concept begins with LanzaTech, who capture carbon emissions, which would otherwise would be released to the atmosphere, and then use a process of bacterial fermentation to convert it to ethanol. The ethanol was dehydrated by Technip technology to become ethylene. At Borealis, we then polymerize the ethylene to create EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) — a virgin-quality material that is perfectly suited to be used as the raw material for the foam cushioning in On’s high-performance running shoes.

© On

We concluded the proof of concept stage for CleanCloud producing the first shoes with EVA midsoles made out of 51% carbon emissions, but On’s ambition is to roll it out across its footwear collection. To make this a reality, Borealis will be continuing to work with partners on implementing atmospheric carbon capture based polyolefins technology on a commercial scale.

Inspiring future progress

The shoe serves as a proof-point of our power to decouple plastic from fossil fuels. Only a few years ago, such a product would have seemed far beyond reach. In demonstrating what is possible through collaboration, it provides inspiration for future development.

© On

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