Skokie's LanzaTech the sole U.S. finalist in royals' Earthshot climate award

  • Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, arrive Friday for the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony at the MGM Music Hall in Boston.

    Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, arrive Friday for the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony at the MGM Music Hall in Boston. Associated Press

  • The Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony took place Friday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston.

    The Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony took place Friday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool

  • Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, chat with actor Rami Malek at The Earthshot Prize Awards at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston, Friday.

    Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, chat with actor Rami Malek at The Earthshot Prize Awards at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston, Friday. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool

  • Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, talk to former football player David Beckham after attending the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony Friday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston. Actor/comedian Catherine O'Hara is center in the background.

    Britain's Prince William and Kate, princess of Wales, talk to former football player David Beckham after attending the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony Friday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, in Boston. Actor/comedian Catherine O'Hara is center in the background. Brian Snyder/Pool Photo via AP

  • Singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding arrives for the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony Friday at the MGM Music Hall in Boston.

    Singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding arrives for the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony Friday at the MGM Music Hall in Boston. Associated Press

 
BY JENNY WHIDDEN
jwhidden@dailyherald.com
Updated 12/9/2022 1:29 PM

A Skokie-based tech company is being recognized by the Royal Foundation for its unique climate specialization -- turning industrial carbon emissions into products like running shoes, dresses and airplane fuel.

LanzaTech was the sole U.S. finalist out of 15 worldwide for the Earthshot Prize, an award presented by the Royal Foundation and launched by Great Britain's Prince William and David Attenborough in 2020 to find and grow global climate solutions. The awards were announced Friday in Boston, with the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance alongside celebrities such as David Beckham, Rami Malek and Ellie Goulding.

 

The five winners -- organizations 44.01, Kheyti, Mukuru Clean Stoves, Notpla and Queensland Indigenous Women's Ranger Network -- will each receive 1 million British pounds. The finalists will receive tailored support -- such as in the areas of manufacturing, retail, legal advice, digital technology and business strategy -- from The Earthshot Prize Global Alliance, a network of philanthropies, nongovernmental organizations and businesses.

"We're very honored to be recognized by this award and being amongst those finalists. That's a huge, huge honor, and I think it also validates the work that we've done so far," said Michael Koepke, LanzaTech vice president of synthetic biology. "Ultimately, we want to get to a stage where every consumer can have the choice to get a sustainable version of their product."

The company uses its gas fermentation technology to trap pollution and turn it into ethanol, which can be used to create a range of products. Three ethanol plants in China -- two at ferroalloy plants and one at a steel mill -- currently use LanzaTech technology, producing over 50,000 gallons of ethanol and diverting over 200,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Koepke said the networking and awareness that comes with being a finalist has been really valuable, especially for the stage that LanzaTech is at right now. The company has recently commercialized its technology and is now looking to "number up and really produce impactful quantities of products."

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Founded in New Zealand, LanzaTech moved its research and development headquarters to the Chicago area about 10 years ago, spending a few years in Roselle before settling in at the Illinois Science and Technology Park in Skokie among other organizations such as Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Koepke said that while New Zealand was a great place to start the company, it's a relatively small country. The U.S. is better suited to building multiple commercial plans and scaling up the engineered microbes that LanzaTech uses in its fermentation process.

"There's obviously a really good basis for talent (in the Chicago area) with the universities, national labs and a lot of big established companies, especially on the engineering side," he said.

LanzaTech has over a dozen plants soon to come online over the next two years. So far, the company has worked with brands such as Zara, Coty and Lululemon to make products using the ethanol produced by LanzaTech.

"It's obviously really important to develop more sustainable solutions and keep the carbon that we have above ground in circulation as long as possible," Koepke said. "I think it's about being very precious about the carbon and enabling a circular economy where at the end of the life we bring it back into the cycle, which our technology allows for, and displace fossil products and keep as much fossil as we can in the ground."

• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work, click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

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