This Is The World’s First Carbon-Negative Vodka

You know the old stage saying from magicians: Nothing in my hat, nothing up my sleeve, and whoosh—out of the empty hat pops a rabbit, or a flapping pigeon or whistling mini-locomotive. The startled faces in the audience are the kinds of faces most people would make when told that Air Co. is making vodka out of air and water. No grain, no yeast.

Air + water = vodka. Magic? Not quite.

Using renewable electricity, Air Co. turns carbon from air into pure ethanol, by electrically splitting water into carbon and oxygen. The carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms are re-formed on a metal-based catalyst, and voila! Pure ethanol.

“The process uses the same principles as photosynthesis in plants, but does so more efficiently,” Stafford Sheehan, the co-founder and CTO of Air Co., tells Popular Mechanics.

Here’s how it works: Air Co.’s conversion reactor produces a mixture of approximately 10 percent ethanol in water, free of all solids or other constituents you’d usually find in fermentation, says Shaheen. “Following conversion,” he says, “we distil the 10 percent ethanol to 96.5 percent in a custom-built, 18-plate vodka still followed by additional proprietary, trade-secret processes to purify and dilute the ethanol to a 40 percent alcohol-by-volume vodka.”

So, no giant, farmed, irrigated acreages of grain, no fermentation, and no complex distillation to remove impurities. And it’s all carbon-negative, says Sheehan, a Yale Ph.D. who has developed several commercial technologies based on his applied research in the fields of chemistry, physics, and computer science.