Products Made With Captured Greenhouse Gas Are Reaching Commercial Scale | Kanebridge News
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Products Made With Captured Greenhouse Gas Are Reaching Commercial Scale

Startups are taking aim at chemicals, one of the largest industrial sources of global emissions

By DIETER HOLGER
Thu, Dec 1, 2022 8:58amGrey Clock 3 min

Straws, bottles and packaging made with captured greenhouse-gas are starting to reach commercial scale, offering a way for businesses making and using everyday products to reduce emissions contributing to global warming.

Locking up greenhouse gas in ingredients that go into products can be costly compared with petroleum-based options and presents hurdles to building out enough infrastructure to capture emissions. Even so, big companies are increasingly willing to pay a so-called green premium for products that help reduce their carbon footprints by seeking alternatives to plastic and other materials made with petroleum.

Origin Materials Inc. and Newlight Technologies Inc. are trying to meet that demand by bringing factories online that use captured emissions to manufacture materials used to make products including clothes, tires and plastic bottles. The two companies have signed deals with Target Corp., Ford Motor Co. and other companies hoping to reduce emissions in supply chains and from the use of their goods.

“If we could use carbon emissions as a resource to create useful products, then potentially we could create a consumer-driven pathway to reducing carbon in the air,” said Newlight Chief Executive Mark Herrema. Sourcing and transporting raw inputs and captured CO2 are crucial to a product’s so-called carbon-negative credentials, meaning more CO2 is stored than created.

Mr. Herrema said he expects Newlight’s costs to fall as production scales up, adding the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company’s foodware products are already priced competitively with other sustainable options. He said there are many sources for emissions, but more infrastructure to capture them is needed.

Newlight in 2020 opened its first commercial-scale factory in Huntington Beach. It manufactures foodware, such as cutlery, bowls and straws, for Shake Shack Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Hyatt Hotels Corp. among others. Newlight said the factory has produced more than 50 million foodware units.

The company took about a decade to develop a process using microbes that suck up methane or carbon dioxide to grow a biological material called polyhydroxybutyrate, which is used to make biodegradable resins that can replace plastic. The private company sources captured emissions from dairy farms, ethanol plants and landfills, and is expanding into coal mines and exploring direct-air capture.

“Nature’s favorite food source is greenhouse gas,” Mr. Herrema said. “Do what nature does, turn it into useful goods.”

The startups are taking aim at chemicals that are an essential part of many consumer goods. The sector is the third-largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions globally and is on pace to produce more unless new technologies go into widespread use, according to the International Energy Agency.

Making chemicals that capture emissions faces two barriers, according to chemical industry analysts: reducing costs sufficiently to compete with petroleum-based chemical manufacturing and sourcing enough captured emissions or raw materials.

“The market for captured-carbon-based fuels and products is still relatively limited due to technology and cost constraints,” said Mitch Toomey, vice president of sustainability and responsible care at the American Chemistry Council trade association.

Mr. Herrema said Newlight is also in talks with Nike Inc. and Sumitomo Chemical Co. Ltd. to use its materials in apparel and automotive machinery. Previously, Newlight had agreements with IKEA and Dell Technologies to provide packaging, but Mr. Herrema said his company decided over the past few years to focus on serving foodware, fashion and automotive companies until it grows.

Newlight’s next factory is slated to come online in 2025 in Ohio, which will tap methane from a coal mine through an agreement with CNX Resources Corp. The CNX deal will supply between 1 million to 36 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent, with the likely amount somewhere in the middle, said Ravi Srivastava, president of new technologies at CNX. He said the mine is one of only five with a capture system in place, among more than 2,000 coal mines across the U.S. The companies declined to share financial terms of the deal and what portion of the mine’s emissions it will cover.

Competitor Origin Materials has a different approach to acquiring captured emissions and plans for its first commercial-scale factory to come online next year.

The West Sacramento, Calif.-based company already has $9 billion in orders from companies including Primaloft to make bedding and apparel and Ford for automotive parts, and expects to be profitable by 2025 after its second commercial-scale plant opens.

Through a chemical process, Origin Materials converts organic materials, which lock up carbon dioxide from when they were growing, for use in polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic commonly found in packaging and other synthetic products. The company’s offerings will be cost competitive with petroleum-derived versions because the ingredients it uses are abundant and cheap, co-CEO John Bissell said.

“There are a lot of these materials globally,” Mr. Bissell said. “If we’re at the point that we are using all of those things, we’ve won the game if we are starting to run out of feedstock.”

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High-Earning Men Are Cutting Back on Their Working Hours

While most U.S. workers are putting in fewer hours, men in the top 10% of earners cut back their time on the job the most, according to a new study

By Courtney Vinopal
Fri, Jan 27, 2023 4 min

American workers have cut the number of hours they spend in their jobs since 2019, but no group has dialled back its time on the clock more than young, high-earning men whose jobs typically demand long hours.

The top-earning 10% of men in the U.S. labor market logged 77 fewer work hours in 2022, on average, than those in the same earnings group in 2019, according to a new study of federal data by the economics department at Washington University in St. Louis. That translates to 1.5 hours less time on the job each workweek, or a 3% reduction in hours. Over the same three-year period, the top-earning 10% of women cut back time at work by 29 hours, which translates to about half an hour less work each week, or a 1% reduction.

High-earning men in the 25-to-39 age range who could be described as “workaholics” were pulling back, often by choice, says Yongseok Shin, a professor of economics, who co-wrote the paper. Since this group already put in longer hours than the typical U.S. worker—and women at the highest income levels—these high earners had longer work days to trim, Dr. Shin says, and still worked more hours than the average.

The drop in working hours among high-earning men and women helps explain why the U.S. job market is even tighter than what would be expected given the current levels of unemployment and labour force participation, Dr. Shin says.

“These are the people who have that bargaining power,” Dr. Shin says of the leverage many workers have had over their employers in a tight job market. “They have the privilege to decide how many hours they want to work without worrying too much about their economic livelihood.”

The paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which isn’t yet peer reviewed, suggests high earners were more likely to benefit from flexible working arrangements, which could be a factor in reduced work hours.

Before the pandemic, Eli Albrecht, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area, says he worked between 80 to 90 hours a week. Now, he says he puts in 60 to 70 hours each week. That’s still more than most men in America, who averaged 40.5 hours a week in 2021, according to federal data.

Mr. Albrecht’s schedule changed when he shared Zoom school duties for two of his young children with his wife. He’s maintained the reduced hours because it’s making his relationship more equitable, he says, and gives him family time.

“I used to feel—and a lot of dads used to feel—that just by providing for the family financially, that was sufficient. And it’s just not,” Mr. Albrecht says.

The downshift documented by Dr. Shin and his colleagues occurred as many professionals have been reassessing their ambitions and the value of working long hours. Emboldened by a strong job market, millions of Americans quit their jobs in search of better hours and more flexibility.

Overall, U.S. employees worked 18 fewer hours a year, on average, in 2022 compared with 2019, with employed men putting in 28 fewer hours last year and employed women cutting their time by nine hours, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show. The average male worker put in 2,006 hours last year, while the average female worker logged 1,758 hours.

Separate data from the Census Bureau suggests that men with families, in particular, are working less. Between 2019 and 2021, married men devoted roughly 13 fewer minutes, on average, to work each day, according to the American Time Use Survey, which hasn’t yet published 2022 figures. They spent more time on socialising and relaxing, as well as household activities, according to men surveyed by the Census Bureau. The amount of time unmarried men spent on work changed little during that same period.

As high-earning workers in the U.S. cut back, low-wage workers increased their hours, according to Dr. Shin’s research. The bottom-earning 10% of working men logged 41 hours more in 2022, on average, than in 2019. Women in the lowest earning group boosted their hours worked by 52 last year compared with 2019.

While women work fewer hours than men, the unpaid labor they perform outside of their jobs has been well documented. Many working mothers take what’s termed a “second shift,” devoting more time outside work hours to child care and housework.

Maryann B. Zaki, a mother of three who has worked at several firms, including in big law, recently launched her own practice in Houston, giving her more control over her hours. She says she’s noticed more men in her field opting for reduced schedules, sometimes working 80% of the hours normally expected—which can range from 40 to more than 80 a week—in exchange for a 20% pay cut. For the average lawyer, that would amount to a salary reduction of tens of thousands of dollars each year; such arrangements were initially offered to aid working mothers.

Responding to new expectations of work-life balance may be particularly vexing for industries already facing staffing shortages, such as those in medicine. Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, the chief well-being officer for the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said she often hears from early-career physicians and other medical professionals who want to work fewer hours to avoid burnout.

These medical workers are deciding that to be in it for the long haul requires a day every week or two to decompress, Dr. Dyrbye says. But as staff cut back their hours, it costs medical organisations money and may compromise access to care.

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