Potz cleaning agent with an M-Check label bearing the inscription "Alcohol made from recycled CO2"

Environment

How CO2 is converted into cleaning agents

A new procedure enables a fearsome greenhouse gas to be used to make industrial alcohol. Migros Industrie is now turning this into cleaning agents. And these are now available for customers to buy.

From
Michael West
Date
Format
What we do

The Earth is running a temperature

The illustration shows a thermometer indicating a high temperature. Next to this there is a factory whose chimneys are emitting smoke that is obscuring the sun.

Our planet is constantly getting hotter. This is due to the greenhouse gas CO2, which is released into the atmosphere in large quantities by air travel and heavy industry, amongst others polluters. This causes a global greenhouse effect.

What can be done about it?

The most important remedy for climate change is to prevent CO2 from being created in the first place. Migros plays a part in this by transporting goods by rail whenever possible and operating solar arrays on the roofs of its buildings. Many other examples could also be listed.

Capturing CO2

The illustration shows a grey cloud and an arrow pointing to a boiling flask.

Unfortunately, CO2 emissions are unavoidable in major industrial sectors around the world, for instance in the production of steel. Here's where a new procedure developed by the American startup LanzaTech comes into play: this compresses CO2 and ferments in containers. The end product is liquid alcohol.

Useful micro-organisms

This transformation is made possible by special micro-organisms which feed on CO2 in the containers, thus causing fermentation. These tiny creatures are ancient life forms that already called our planet home when CO2 was still the predominant gas in the atmosphere.

A clean solution

The new procedure is initially being used at a steel plant in Hebei province in northern China. From the end of next year onwards, CO2 will also be captured and fermented at a modern steelworks in the Belgian city of Ghent. The Mibelle Group, a Migros subsidiary, is already using the alcohol produced in this environmentally friendly manner to make the cleaning agents sold under the Potz and Migros Plus brands. In 2020, about 80 tonnes of this ethanol were processed. That's 30% of the alcohol the company needs each year to manufacture cleaning agents. The aim is to increase this figure to 100% over the next two years.

Various cleaning agents (Potz and Migros Plus) that contain alcohol made from recycled CO2.

Moving away from sugar

The illustration shows a cycle with three stages. The first features a young plant, the second a fully grown plant and the third falling rain.

Up to now, the alcohol used to make cleaning agents has often been obtained from sugar beet or sugar cane. The main problem here was the origin of the sugar cane: this often came from plantations in Brazil for which rainforest had previously been cleared. "The production of this new type of alcohol no longer requires any agricultural land," explains Susanna Heldmaier (53), the Strategic Lead of Basic Research & Technical Innovation at the Mibelle Group. "We can therefore preserve resources and contribute towards climate protection."

"The production of this new type of alcohol no longer requires any agricultural land"

Susanne Heldmaier (53), the Strategic Lead of Basic Research & Technical Innovation at the Mibelle Group.

What about transportation?

Just how good is it for the climate to transport alcohol produced in China to Switzerland? "If you consider the entire life cycle of the alcohol, the delivery of the product hardly makes any difference in spite of the long distance," Heldmaier says. This life cycle assessment is checked within the framework of an independent study by the company Carbotech AG. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also backed this new technology. Alcohol could one day partly also be made from CO2 in Switzerland – for example at waste incineration plants.

Plastic from alcohol

The Mibelle Group has ambitious plans: in the future, it wants to use this environmentally friendly alcohol to not only produce cleaning agents, but also for the packaging. The bottles for these cleaning agents are plastic (PET and PE). This plastic can be made from crude oil – or alcohol from recycled CO2.