CALGARY — A Calgary-based technology company has signed a deal with Adidas that will see the sneaker giant manufacture some of its shoes using ink embedded with captured carbon emissions.

The partnership is a major win for Oco, the consumer-facing offshoot of Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a company that specializes in carbon capture and utilization solutions for heavy industry sectors.

Currently focused on the cement industry, Carbon Upcycling uses patented technology installed at Enmax's Shepard Energy Centre east of Calgary to capture carbon dioxide emissions produced by Alberta's largest natural gas-fired power generating facility and sequester them in industrial byproducts for use in concrete production.

But the company also aims to engage the public with products that help people see the potential of carbon capture technology.

Oco takes the solid powder created from its parent company's carbon sequestration process and markets it to brands looking to improve their environmental footprint by incorporating captured carbon material into their products.

"This is just a starting point that we selected," said Oco co-founder Madison Savilow, of the carbon-embedded ink that the company will be providing to Adidas for the production of 400,000 pairs of Terrex running shoes.

She said the same carbon-embedded material used to make the ink for Adidas can also be used in plastics, pharmaceuticals, batteries and more — meaning there's a wide range of opportunities.

For a company like Adidas, she said, using captured carbon additives in its shoes is more than just a gimmick. Many inks are made from petroleum-based ingredients, so Oco is offering a way for companies to reimagine their supply chains.

"One of the issues that we're seeing after talking to dozens and dozens of large, large consumer brands is that they all have this net-zero target that they've set for themselves," Savilow said.

A Calgary company has partnered with Adidas to make what might be the world's most climate-friendly runners. #carboncapture

"But they're uncertain how they're going to hit it or even what pathway there is for them to hit it."

Savilow said her company's long-term vision is to create a “circular economy,” where emissions created in a given product's production can be captured and embedded back into that same product.

"Our goal is to eventually see every material that's used in the consumer goods sector be made from a circular or regenerative process," she said.

"We're starting with inks, but a lot of the work that we're doing is in polymers or plastics ... And we're also co-developing and developing in-house materials that can have a bigger impact as well. That includes things like resins, and we're looking at the textiles space as well."

Adidas' Terrex shoes with the CO2-enhanced ink are expected to be released in the fall, with a retail price of between $80 to $350 a pair, depending on the model.

While the idea of embedding carbon in consumer products is in its early phases, advocates believe it has long-term potential. Another Calgary-based company, CleanO2, uses emissions captured from heating system exhaust to create environmentally friendly soaps and detergents.

A 2018 report from McKinsey and Co. said captured carbon dioxide can technically be converted into any type of fuel or chemical that is otherwise derived from petroleum, which means it has a host of potential industrial and commercial uses.

But the McKinsey report also cautioned that before captured carbon usage is widely adopted, the technology used to collect and sequester emissions from power plants and industrial facilities will have to become much more cost-effective.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2023.

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When I read some of these hopeful press releases from people engaged in trying to salvage the earth from its carbon plague I can't help but be impressed by the imagination, the applied chemistry, the scientific effort invested in these innovations ...but...then the inevitable creeping doubt invades my pessimistic brain - how much of an impact can this technology make on the overall consumption/extraction of the apparently limitless supply of petroleum. The idea of the circular economy makes sense - but does it make sense in the reality of the overwhelming dominance of the virgin petro-chemical industry.? The paradoxical reality of the virgin petro chemical sector is that it only exists because humanity has chosen to subsidize the extractive sector with the profits of exploited human labour.

Petroleum was once called "cheap" energy that transformed human life and accelerated the vast disparities in wealth among human beings. The costs of that disparity are now actually threatening to undo human civilization. Has Petroleum's internal circular economy been good or evil? It is clear too many of us are addicted to the chimera of the easy money, the wealth, derived from long dead, toxic carbon and like any addiction, when in its grasp, we fail to acknowledge the harm it is doing us.