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Clean02 unlocks key to carbon-capture soaps, cleaning products

IMAGE: A CleanO2 soap bar made with captured carbon
COne of seven soap bars offered by CleanO2, made with captured carbon, shea butter, aloe and coconut milk. (Courtesy CleanO2 Carbon Capture Technologies)

CO2 being captured by CleanO2 Carbon Capture Technologies' small-scale CarbinX device is doing more than just cleaning the air; it's also cleaning people thanks to a line of soap products.

Each CarbinX device can reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by six to eight tonnes annually, equivalent to the effect of 300 trees. It connects to natural gas appliances in buildings and permanently sequesters the carbon as potassium carbonate – also known as pearl ash – a key ingredient in soaps and countless other products.

“For us right now, we're largely focused on personal care, because it's flashy and tells a very compelling story. There's good margin, and people get it,” said Jaeson Cardiff, the CEO of Calgary-based CleanO2.

“When you're trying to talk to people about carbon capture, it's kind of a dry subject. So how do you get people engaged?

"Well, you do that by creating products that people use every day.”

The first soap product was released in 2018 and is now available in several varieties. All are vegan, biodegradable as well as free of palm oil, phthalates, paraben, sulphates and artificial colours.

Soap from captured carbon, and much more

All varieties start at $8. They’re available on CleanO2’s website as well as Safeway, Sobeys and Canadian Tire.

Also currently available are laundry detergents, general-purpose cleaners and car care products.

The CarbinX devices have been installed in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Leduc, Regina and Toronto. In the U.S. the units are present in Minnesota and Oregon. There are also eight units installed with Tokyo Gas in Japan.

Soon, they'll be helping to clean lots of other things, too, with plans to expand the product line to hair care, shaving bars, a stain remover and a line of detergents.

The potential for the implementation of potassium carbonate is vast, according to Cardiff. It can be used in pharmaceuticals, food preparation, fertilizers, textiles and more.

The CleanO2 team refers to it as the “Swiss Army Knife of chemicals.”

The production of potassium carbonate via CarbinX also produces significantly less Scope 3 emissions than traditional means.

“What's interesting is that through traditional channels, for one tonne of traditional potassium carbonate, you will produce 2.3 metric tons of GHGs,” he explained. “Whereas in our system, that same chemical can be produced by using a waste stream of CO2 from boilers and heating appliances, so there is no additional production.”

CleanO2 and CarbinX

The company has 12,000 feet of manufacturing space at its Calgary headquarters, with half dedicated to the production of the personal care products and the rest focused on producing CarbinX technology. CleanO2 is capable of producing around 100,000 units of soap and 20 CarbinX units per month.

“Everybody likes to remind me that I was adamant about not selling soap, that the production of soap was purely for marketing, it was only meant as a tool to demonstrate the value of recycled carbon. It was never supposed to be a revenue piece,” Cardiff said. “I guess, start-ups call it the pivot.

"So that's what we did. We pivoted.”

The genesis of the CarbinX device came in 2005. 

“It was as a result of asking the question of, 'what does my career look like?' I was operating as a plumber and gas fitter,” Cardiff said. “So I spent a lot of time in commercial mechanical rooms, and I had noticed that there was a fair bit of discussion going on around the concerns around carbon emissions.”

CleanO2 was incorporated in 2013 and in 2017 began commercialization of the technology.

Cardiff calls natural gas utilities the best partners his firm has pursued so far. It works with nine utilities spread out across Canada, the U.S. and Japan.

The device is “about the size of two refrigerators,” according to its website and weighs 480 kg. It can cost around $33,700, plus installation costs.

Future of CleanO2

There are discussions with an independent contractor in the U.S. to significantly scale up the production of both soap products and CarbinX units. The current goal is to increase CarbinX production to between 200 and 500 units per month.

Meanwhile, the expanded product line is to be introduced in the coming weeks. Part of this will include a private-label product for a local grocer.

“We sort of realized, if we're gonna grow this brand, we really need to have more than just seven bars of soap.”

He also mentioned plans for a fertilizer release next year. A pilot project with a Calgary golf course was supposed to go ahead this year, but CleanO2 had to delay it to 2023.

His vision of the company’s future is a regional business model with CarbinX units produced in multiple locations around Canada and the U.S., with local manufacturers and contractors making the soap and detergent products. He's hoping for a “pretty aggressive” rollout starting in 2023 and continuing over the next two to three years.

“We're scaling things up now where we're looking at setting up operations, physical locations in both Canada, the U.S. and Japan,” he said. “With any luck, we'll be in Australia, the U.K. and the E.U. markets next year as well.”

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