A Carbon-Negative Vodka Straight Out of a Sci-Fi Storyline
Joe Doucet, designer and partner of the new startup Air Co., tells us about the groundbreaking process of transforming carbon dioxide into ultra-refined products—beginning with the world’s first carbon-negative vodka.
“The two founders of Air Co., Stafford Sheehan and Greg Constantine, met several years ago while on the way to a conference. Stafford is a chemist with a Ph.D., and developed a new patented technology that essentially sequesters excess CO2 from the air, and rearranges molecules together in a way that can form different carbon chains. One of the byproducts of that is an ultra-pure ethanol, an alcohol that’s simply an arrangement of carbon atoms. This process creates alcohol at about twenty percent less of the cost of traditional methods. Cultivating fields, processing grain or potatoes—which are usually used to make vodka, for example—then fermenting and distilling all requires a great deal of land and, more importantly, a great deal of energy and water. This process, by contrast, is actually carbon-negative. In other words, you buy a bottle, and you’re taking about a pound of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
I’m not really a big fan of vodka—I find it, you know, a spirit that’s defined by what’s not there—but this is the best-tasting vodka that I’ve ever had. That’s not an exaggeration, and it’s not marketing. It’s what convinced me, apart from the ethos of the company, to join the project: It doesn’t matter how much good you’re trying to do in the world if you have a product people won’t like. And I can say, it’s an extraordinary vodka with a particular mouthfeel.
The packaging itself, too, is designed to see a second life. Working with [the New York City printer] Earth Enterprise, we developed a special type of adhesive for the label that will stay put if submerged in water, or, say, placed in a freezer—which tends to be the case with bottles of vodka—but can be easily peeled off once it’s finished so the bottle can be kept for a bedside table, or used as a water carafe in restaurants. The vodka is our first product, and we’ll be entering into all different kinds of fields where alcohol is a key ingredient. The idea of Air Co. is that we’ll minimize our impact in every way: Our first factory is in Bushwick [in Brooklyn], and it’s only about 1,000 square feet. As we enter different markets, we’ll be able to build additional factories with a minimal footprint, allowing for local shipping and distribution. It’s not just low-impact; it’s good for the planet to make things this way.”