A California company is employing ocean microorganisms to convert methane into physical material in order to make a line of single-use straws and cutlery.
Newlight hopes their revolutionary technology, which Popular Science called “the most important innovation of the year,” will go a long way in removing the burden of single-use plastic straws and other takeaway food components from the ocean.
The manner in which the material, that Newlight calls “Air Carbon,” is made, comes straight from the example of nature—taking in a greenhouse gas is something co-founder and CEO Mark Herrema notes happens every day in the form of photosynthesis in plants. Since 2003, the company has been wondering if it were possible to harness that action.
Underwater, however, microorganisms don’t merely dine on CO2, but more powerful greenhouse gases like methane as well.
Harvesting methane from an abandoned mine in California, engineers at Newlight add the gas to a tank containing 15,000 gallons of seawater and millions of microbes.
The microbes consumed the methane and turned it into a meltable energy source inside themselves, which Newlight promptly extracted and dried into a fine white powder that’s dishwasher-safe, carbon-negative, and ocean-degradable.
Form and Function
Newlight has been able to generate a line of hyper-sustainable products; the aforementioned flatware and straws, but also fashion products.
Covalent makes a line of wallets and sunglasses out of the same Air Carbon material, neutralizing the greenhouse gases associated with the production of leather and synthetic materials with the special carbon-negative ocean-born material, eliminating greenhouse gasses in every stage of the value chain.
Meanwhile, Restore Foodware, dissolves in seawater like cellulose, which actually provides food to everything from microorganisms to fish.
Their line of cocktail and jumbo straws along with takeaway flatware won Technology Pioneer Award from the World Economic Forum.
The cutlery and fashion items are available for pre-order—with shipping estimated to begin by October 30 as production ramps up at a new facility in Southern California.
The people at Newlight feel that the unique way in which Air Carbon is made infuses a bit of the earth and humanity into our day-to-day lives, and can represent the circular economy in a meaningful way.
The methane born of human productivity goes to feed nature’s microbes that create a product which we can then use in our homes again; the cycle concludes after it returns to the ocean, whose waters it and ourselves also emerged from, to breakdown and feed the life which produces the material once again.