Materials producers Lenzing and Covestro are among 11 companies from six countries that recently joined forces to launch the Renewable Carbon Initiative (RCI). The initiative, under the leadership of German research institute nova-Institute, aims to phase out the use of fossil fuels for all organic chemicals and materials by 2050 to enable chemicals, plastics and other organic materials to become sustainable, climate-friendly and part of the circular economy.

“There is a big focus on decarbonization of the energy sector, but less so on materials,” says Josef Innerlohinger, member of the R&D team at Lenzing. As energy continues to shift to renewable sources, the decarbonization of materials is expected to become increasingly important, he says.

“We want to move away from fossil-based carbon,” says Innerlohinger. “It’s not about avoiding carbon because we need it for a lot of materials.” RCI members are looking to accelerate the transition to renewable carbon, that is carbon sourced from biomass, recycling or the direct utilization of carbon dioxide.

The initiative intends to create cross-industry platforms to share expertise and demonstrate the feasibility of renewable carbon, as well as advocating for legislation, taxation and regulation changes and raising awareness of renewable carbon in the supply chain, the business community as a whole and the wider public. The creation of a renewable carbon label that is easy for consumers to understand could be part of RCI’s efforts, says Innerlohinger.

Lenzing already uses biomass – sustainably-grown wood sources – for its fibers, whose customers include companies in textiles and footwear. The Spanish shoe company Camper last month announced it was teaming up with Lenzing’s Tencel brand to produce a shoe collection using its sustainable Lyocell fibers. Lenzing also recently began to recycle textiles.

Covestro last year unveiled a concept shoe with Chinese shoe designer Axis Liu composed entirely of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). The use of a single material in the shoe facilitates recycling. The footwear also uses TPU types from its eco range of its Desmopan labelled TPUs, in which up to 60 percent of the carbon content is sourced from biomass, depending on the product hardness,

Covestro is on the cutting-edge when it comes to the use of carbon dioxide in materials. It produces TPUs using its trademark raw material, cardyon, which uses up to 20 percent carbon dioxide for applications such as the production of flexible foams for mattresses and synthetic sports flooring. The company is currently evaluating the use of cardyon in the production of elastic textile fibers. Cardyon is produced at Covestro’s Dormagen site near Cologne, using carbon dioxide from a neighboring chemical company, where it is produced as a byproduct.

Along with Lenzing and Covestro, other founding members of RCI include German personal care group Beiersdorf, Dutch sugar beet co-op Cosun Beet Company, German consumer goods group Henkel, American gas fermentation group LanzaTech, Finnish oil refiner Neste, Dutch energy company SHV Energy, Dutch chemicals group Stahl, Anglo-Dutch food and consumer goods group Unilever and Finnish forest industry company UPM.