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From carbon dioxide to care products: How CleanO2 uses the circular economy to repurpose carbon emissions into soap and detergents

08/24/2021 By

What if your favorite soap came from one of the most common waste products in the environment — carbon dioxide?

Since CO2 is in most everything, the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change also can be converted into other products.

That process got former plumber Jaeson Cardiff thinking. The former plumber and tradesman realized he could use carbon emissions from commercial buildings to create new chemicals. And those chemicals could go into other products that are used every day. With those chemicals and emissions, he and some colleagues founded CleanO2.

The company is a personal care product company that uses captured carbon emissions from commercial buildings that are repurposed into cleaning and other personal products. It takes waste to regenerate new products, leaving the environment a little cleaner than it was before.

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“CleanO2 is a Canadian-based company focused on reducing and eventually eliminating carbon emissions from the commercial heating industry,” Cardiff said. “We do that by deploying technology that we’ve developed in Canada, the United States and Japan. And then we convert carbon emissions into products that people can use in their day-to-day lives. So right now we’re primarily focused on personal care products.”

CleanO2’s equipment sits alongside natural fire appliances and collects potassium carbonate (a key product in soap and detergent). While that reaction occurs, it also generates some of its own heat, which can then be put back into the building to heat it once again, typically to heat water.

“That tank doesn’t have to work as hard,” Cardiff said. “It doesn’t have to burn as much gas and is able to reduce its carbon emissions. And then of course, we’re actually directly reducing carbon emissions by creating this chemical. So, it’s a bit of an arbitrage play of commodities where we plug in an inexpensive chemical, and it becomes a higher value chemical that we then work with local mechanical contractors to collect. And then, it’s kept local.”

That local angle is a big point for Cardiff. Logistics and transportation lead to more emissions that are bad for the environment. By keeping many of its operations local, CleanO2 can further contribute to a healthier environment.

The soaps and other detergents made by CleanO2 are part of the circular economy. The concept focuses on eliminating waste while creating products that leave the environment better off than it was in the past.

“It’s not just about reducing carbon emissions,” Cardiff said of his company. “It’s also about supporting a circular economy where, for example, one of our customers is a large hotel chain in the US. It’s really cool that we can capture the carbon emissions from the hotel and plug that into a cleaning product that was manufactured locally, and then used back in the hotel to keep the surfaces clean or to provide their customers with personal care products. So there’s all sorts of things where it’s cyclical. You’re using a waste product that would otherwise be vented to the atmosphere to help keep your hotel clean.”

Although carbon is found in nearly everything — including every breath expelled from a human  — Cardiff said it doesn’t mean manufacturers should continue to use “virgin” materials to create products. Instead, using the wasted carbon emissions will produce a more environmentally friendly and waste-free world.

“It’s one thing to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a completely different matter to do it in a fashion that doesn’t create a liability to the customer, right? To be a liability to society where it’s a cost to do,” Cardiff said.

To procure its supplies, CleanO2 works with local contractors and businesses to source emissions. This has given Cardiff ample opportunity to work with a variety of suppliers and tradesmen. Each one provides a new idea to the ESG space.

And as a former plumber, Cardiff realized how impactful innovation can be in altering the course of climate change. But instead of immediately heading to universities and researchers, Cardiff hopes people will look a little closer to the source.

“One of the things that’s near and dear to me is involving trades in the circular economy story and cleantech as a tradesperson,” Cardiff said. “I feel like the plumbers and gas fitters, electricians, the carpenters, the HVAC technicians, they kind of get forgotten. We’re where the implementers are, but we’re never looked at as the innovators in this space. And I think that the tradespeople can play a significant role in not only helping deploy cleantech solutions but also helping support different avenues from a circular economy perspective.”

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