In a bottle of perfume, the biggest ingredient is ethanol—an ingredient that’s usually made from fermenting and distilling a grain like corn. Growing the corn crop means using large amounts of land and water and creating emissions from fertilizer and fuel use. But a new eau de parfum, from a startup called Air Company, uses ethanol made from captured CO2 instead.
It’s the third CO2-based product from Air Company, which launched with carbon-negative vodka, followed in the early days of the pandemic by carbon-negative hand sanitizer. Eventually, the company plans to sell products such as CO2-based jet fuel that can help address climate change by slowing down emissions on a larger scale. “The goal for us has always been to use these products in our own internal research and development for the company, but as beacons for people to show you that you can make these really sustainable products that people use every day in their lives,” says cofounder and CEO Gregory Constantine.
At its factory in Brooklyn, the startup uses CO2 captured from nearby facilities that produce ethanol traditionally, and then combines it with hydrogen that it makes from electrolysis, a process that splits the oxygen and hydrogen in water. Everything in the process runs on renewable electricity. The company’s proprietary technology, which mimics photosynthesis, creates ethanol, which can be used to make alcohol, perfume, or other products, and water that’s recycled back into its hydrogen production. Air Eau de Parfum, formulated and blended at New York-based Joya Studio, has notes of fig leaf, orange peel, jasmine, violet, powdery musk, and tobacco. The company also chose to use synthetic scents because they have less environmental impact in production.
The new eau de parfum will be produced in a limited edition, but the startup wants to use it to demonstrate to larger companies what’s possible. “What we’re able to create is a great proof of concept, but where we’re able to have real impact on CO2 reduction, from an emissions reduction point of view, is when we’re able to then implement it into big business and into their pipelines as well,” Constantine says. Some fragrance companies are already moving toward alternatives, like Coty, which now works with a startup called LanzaTech to make ethanol for its fragrances from emissions captured at industrial plants.
In the case of perfume, there’s one catch: Although the products shrink climate pollution, the scents themselves do still contribute to local air pollution. One recent NOAA study in New York City found that fragrant personal care products, which emit volatile organic compounds or VOCs, are responsible for a surprisingly large portion of the city’s ozone pollution.