Cheers To Carbon Negative Vodka

Oct. 28, 2021

Hold on to your martini glasses -- there’s a carbon negative vodka on the market. I’m wondering which aspect of The Guardian article caused my editor to think of me: the good news for the environment or the booze? Likely it was the booze. I don’t have many vices but a good dirty martini is one of them.

According to The Guardian, “A company in New York City has created what it calls the ‘world’s most sustainable spirit by making a vodka out of carbon dioxide that has been captured from the air. The 40% proof drink, appropriately called Air vodka, removes a pound of CO2 from the atmosphere for each bottle made, its maker [Air Company] has claimed.”

The process is pretty straightforward. The company’s website notes that CO2 is captured from traditional fermentation and industrial alcohol plants prior to it being emitted into the atmosphere. It then undergoes electrolysis, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. While the oxygen is released into the atmosphere, the hydrogen is then fed into a carbon conversion reactor system along with the captured CO2 where it is converted into impurity-free alcohols.

The carbon conversion reactor is a tubular, fixed-bed flow system. The CO2 and H2 rise to the top of each tube, which are filled with a patented catalyst. This creates a chemical reaction that produces a reactor liquid. The reactor liquid is composed of ethanol (C2H5OH), methanol (CH3OH) and water (H2O).

From there, it goes through a distillation process that separates the reactor liquid. Ethanol, methanol and water all have different boiling points, and therefore when heated to a specific temperature, they separate. First, the ethanol and methanol are separated from the water, and then the process repeats to separate the methanol from the ethanol. The ethanol and water are combined in large steel totes and mixed by hand. Then ta-da -- it’s vodka time!

I’m assuming one of the perks of drinking Air vodka is being able to impress party guests with the knowledge that via a few tweaks to the process you can go from vodka to perfume to jet fuel. And Air Company does, indeed, offer those products for sale as well.

To achieve Air Eau de Parfum, after the vodka is made a scent is mixed in.

For jet fuel, it’s a little more work. After the reactor core, the alcohols are then transformed into olefins in a second conversion process, before being fed into a third reactor. In a third reactor, the olefins are assembled together to produce a synthetic kerosene mixture.

The Guardian article points out there are critics worried that capturing carbon pollution directly from the air is merely a distraction and won’t prevent “climate catastrophe.”

“If we can be a beacon for other people to try this, to help industries and the planet, that’s a massive win,” says Gregory Constantine, one of the founders of Air Company. “As other industries jump on board, costs will come down. We want more companies doing this.”

I guess the only question remaining is can I still call it a dirty martini if it’s cleaning up the air? Or is it now a “very dirty martini?”

Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing's Editor-in-Chief. In the spirit of research and the environment, she ordered a bottle of Air vodka and will perform a few tests to ensure the claims the company makes are true. You can email her your favorite vodka-based drink recipes at [email protected]

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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