Each bottle of Air Co. vodka, which launched Thursday, soaks up as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as eight fully grown trees, according to Air Co. co-founder Gregory Constantine.
"In other words, each bottle removes one pound of carbon dioxide from the air through its entire life cycle," Constantine tells CNBC Make It.
The vodka, which costs $65 for a 750 ml bottle, is made from only two ingredients, carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and water. That's unlike traditional vodka, which is typically made by fermenting grains such as corn, potato and wheat. Producing a typical bottle of vodka could create around 13 pounds of greenhouse gases, according to Fast Company, while Air Co.'s product is carbon negative, removing a pound of carbon from the air with every bottle produced.
Air Co. says its patented system works by using (renewable solar) electricity to turn carbon from the air into pure ethanol.
Its process is "inspired by photosynthesis in nature, where plants breathe in CO2. They take up water, and they use energy in the form of sunlight to make things like sugars and to make other higher-value hydrocarbons, with oxygen as the sole by-product. Same thing with our process: The only by-product is oxygen," electrochemist and co-founder Stafford Sheehan told Fast Company.
"The process uses the same principles as photosynthesis in plants but does so more efficiently," Constantine tells CNBC Make It.
Air Co.'s technology splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, then combines the hydrogen with carbon dioxide (collected from factories near its Brooklyn, New York headquarters), which creates alcohol and water, only emitting oxygen into the atmosphere. The water is then removed via distilling, leaving behind the alcohol. Air Co. says its vodka is also free of the impurities that can left behind from the grains used in traditional vodka production.
Constantine says the problem with the way traditional vodka is made is the grain fermentation. To do this, Constantine says alcohol companies need to farm thousands of acres of land for corn, potatoes or wheat. According to the University of Michigan, grain products contribute to 3% of greenhouse gases from food consumption in U.S. households.
Air Co. was founded in 2017 by Constantine, a former executive at spirit and beer producer Diageo, and Sheehan, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale University. The pair met at bar overseas during a Forbes 30 Under 30 trip in 2016.
Constantine says he was interested in working with Sheehan after learning about the system he created at Yale that converts carbon dioxide into alcohol.
The vodka is Air Co.'s first product, says Constantine, but the company's long-term goal is to become a consumer lifestyle business that makes fragrances and home cleaning supplies using pure ethanol made from carbon dioxide to help reduce greenhouse gases in the future.
However, Air Co.'s concept of converting carbon into alcohol isn't new. In 2017, Ph.D. students from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands also figured out a way to make alcohol out of air.
Additionally, this year, Finland opened a carbon-negative brewery that uses carbon dioxide to make beer.
Constantine says to start Air Co. is only releasing its product to a few select bars and restaurants in New York City with plans to expand to retailers in 2020. Air Co. would not disclose how much it costs to make a bottle of its vodka, and it remains to be seen who will be willing to pay such a premium for eco-friendly vodka (a 750 ml bottle of Absolut or Tito's vodka costs about $20 compared to Air Co.'s $65). CNBC Make It tried Air Co.'s product and it tasted like your average vodka.
Air Co.'s carbon converting system has received awards from NASA, The United Nations and it is one of five finalists for a $20 million global XPRIZE (the world's largest carbon technology competition).
Air Co., which currently has nine employees, would not disclose how much money it has raised.
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