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What if your clothes had captured carbon sewn in? H&M and Lanzatech are putting CO2 in athleisure

a brown-skinned model wears H&M's black shirt and leggings
Image Credit: H&M

“This is the stuff of science fiction,” H&M wrote in its press release announcing a new partnership with carbon capture and utilization company LanzaTech.

LanzaTech captures carbon and recycles it, turning it into products like detergents and fragrances made with its “CarbonSmart” ethanol, foam for running shoes, and even polyester fabric.

The Skokie, Illinois-based startup, started in 2014, has the ultimate goal of enabling a “post-pollution” future — a world where shampoo bottles “started life as emissions from a steel mill,” and where planes are “powered by recycled GHG emissions,” the company says on their website.

“This future is possible today using LanzaTech technology,” they write. The company is already working to enable this future.

One way they’re doing it is with its sustainable airplane fuel spinoff, LanzaJet, which plans to open its pilot plant this year, manufacturing 10 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel annually. Another venture is its household cleaners, which Unilever is currently using for some of its detergents.

Now, they are partnering with H&M, adding captured carbon threads to H&M Move’s line of athleisure jumpsuits. According to H&M, their DryMove technology is designed to pull moisture away from the skin, while wearers exercise, and keep people moving. They will be infusing this technology with LanzaTech’s CarbonSmart polyester to make the three-piece all-black jumpsuits a sink for both sweat and carbon.

“The innovations in the textile industry today focus on sustainability for a better world,” Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with H&M Move on this drop which reflects ways to rethink how we make and how we experience our clothing.”

This is how it works: LanzaTech captures industrial carbon from steel mills, “traps them in bioreactors,” the company states, and then converts them into the building blocks of conventional polyester, forming a fabric that the H&M/LanzaTech team says “helps reduce pollution and limits the use of virgin fossil resources needed to make new products.”

“Our [process] is just like a microbrewery, except we ferment carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide,” Holmgren said via Fast Company earlier this year. By using waste gasses from a steel mill or a refinery, Holmgren believes they can contribute to the circular economy, she said via a February Bloomberg interview.

Already LanzaTech has plants in China, India, and Europe to create its ethanol using waste CO2 gas, and has a production facility for its sustainable jet fuel in the United States.

Back in 2021, LanzaTech debuted a similar partnership with Zara, but instead of exercising outfits, the two made captured carbon into little black dresses.

The move marks another attempt from H&M to green its image, adding on to other initiatives like its recent partnerships with thredUP and Looper Textile to give clothes a second life, and its 2021 partnership with PETA to use ethical new materials.

The Swedish-based retail giant has lofty sustainability goals concerning its contributions to the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis, and as detailed in its 2022 sustainability report, it has made headway on those goals including a 7% reduction of its personal greenhouse gas emissions, 84% “recycled or other more

sustainably sourced materials” in commercial goods, a 44% absolute reduction in plastic use, and 23% recycled materials in their commercial goods.

H&M also plans to reduce relative water consumption per product by 38% by 2030 and their Green Fashion Initiative supports suppliers in replacing fossil fuels, in an attempt to green their supply chain.

After its multiple lawsuits concerning greenwashing and harm to the planet, and its sky-high emissions, H&M has a long way to go to become a truly sustainable company. Still, some of its efforts are working, as between 2021 and 2020, the company was able to reduce its 75.32 thousand tons of GHG emissions to 50.07 thousand tons, about 33.5% less than 2020’s levels, 22% less than 2019’s, and 16% less than 2018’s.

While no available evidence shows that LanzaTech and H&M’s partnership reduces H&M’s own emissions, LanzaTech says that its business, as a whole, changes “how people think about carbon, with the option to recycle a “liability” into valuable and sustainable new products.”

Merritt Dailey, science lead over at the FPC Science Engine’s Negative Emissions Technologies category spelled out the benefits and tradeoffs of carbon capture and utilization (CCU) last year, stating that CCU is a helpful tool in the decarbonization toolbox. While permanent geologic storage is, for her, the long-term goal, building a CCU marketplace allows the carbon capture and direct air capture industries to fund their technologies.

“There’s a growing awareness that climate change is real. It’s pressing. We’re feeling the effects now, and if you can create a market for carbon dioxide, it incentivizes capturing it,” Dailey said. “That means less carbon would be emitted directly into the atmosphere, and if it is emitted then someone has an incentive to draw it down.”

With LanzaTech’s new partnership, that someone is H&M.

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