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Air Co.’s vodka is carbon negative. Photo courtesy XPRIZE.
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XPRIZE Update: Turning carbon emissions into Vodka

The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE’s newest finalist should help liven up the after-party while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest team to join the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is Brooklyn-based Air Co. The company has invented a proprietary technology that uses solar power to capture excess carbon from the air—transforming it into high-quality alcohol. The firm’s first product, Air Vodka will soon be appearing in bars and restaurants around New York City. Consumers will be able to unwind over martinis while taking actionable steps toward a cleaner future.

Air Co. founders and XPRIZE finalists Dr. Stafford Sheehan (right) and Gregory Constantine (left). Photo courtesy XPRIZE.

The vodka, which costs US$65 for a 750 ml bottle is made from only two ingredients: carbon dioxide and water. According to Fast Company, producing a typical bottle of vodka creates around 6 kilograms of greenhouse gases; meanwhile, Air Co. says their product is carbon negative, removing about half a kilogram of excess carbon from the atmosphere with every bottle produced.

Air Co. is led by Dr. Stafford Sheehan and Gregory Constantine. They met in 2017 after both were featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. The duo opened a distillery in Brooklyn in early 2019, and they are also building a scaled-up demonstration plant in Ontario (partially funded by the Ontario Centers of Excellence).

The creators say their process is inspired by photosynthesis in nature—where plants take in CO2 and water and use energy from the sun to create sugars and other organic hydrocarbons. Air Co.’s technology splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, then combines the hydrogen with carbon dioxide emissions from industrial facilities. Ethanol is produced and excess water is removed through distilling. The only byproduct of this process is oxygen.

Each bottle of Air Vodka removes as much CO2 from the atmosphere as eight fully grown trees. Photo courtesy XPRIZE.

The Carbon XPRIZE is in the final round of competition, in which finalist teams are challenged to scale-up up their carbon conversion technologies under real world conditions. Teams must demonstrate their solutions at industrial test centers to compete for one of two grand prizes.

Air Co. will be joining fellow finalists C2CNT, CarbonCure, CERT, and the newly formed Carbon Upcycling Technologies/Newlight team on the Calgary track of the competition. Air Co. was invited by the Carbon XPRIZE panel of expert judges to re-enter the competition after a vacancy was created. This happened when Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a finalist from Calgary, combined with fellow finalist Newlight from Huntington Beach, California. Carbon Upcycling Technologies/Newlight are combining their unique capabilities in CO2-based nanoparticles and polymers in the finals of the Carbon XPRIZE.