CO2 Emissions

Published on May 21st, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Carbon Negative Packaging For Dell = Koch Worst Nightmare (updated)

May 21st, 2014 by  

Holy carbon capture, Batman! We’ve been following a company called Newlight Technologies, which has come up with a carbon negative plastics manufacturing process, and it looks like the idea is catching on. Following on the heels of news that Sprint will use Newlight’s AirCarbon (that’s the plastic) to make iPhone cases, Dell has upped the ante by partnering with Newlight to design its own carbon negative packaging materials.

We’re dragging the now-notorious Koch brothers into this because of their relentless lobbying efforts against clean energy, to the benefit of their massive fossil fuel holdings. Now we’re catching hints that the US fossil fuel market is pivoting toward plastics manufacturing (here and here for example), particularly in relation to shale gas, so a carbon negative, non-fossil alternative is bound to give them the willies.

Dell closed loop carbon negative

Courtesy of Dell

Update: Dell contacted us with the following clarification about their recycling programs:

The closed loop recycling program you reference is related to our hardware. While we do work toward sustainable, waste-free packaging (as evidence by introduction of AirCarbon), the closed-loop plastics process noted within the infographic is actually a model to take plastics recovered from electronics collected through our recycling programs and incorporate them back into new Dell products. You can learn more about our closed loop recycling program at

Dell’s Closed-Loop Challenge

The partnership with Newlight is part of a series of measures that Dell has undertaken to close the loop on closed-loop recycling, at least as far as plastics go.

The AirCarbon angle makes Dell the first IT company to use carbon-negative packaging, if you don’t count Sprint.

Dell has also partnered with the global design manufacturer Wistron Green Tech to achieve certified closed-loop status for recycled plastics under the third-party UL-Environment seal, which it claims is also an industry first.

The ultimate goal for Dell is to achieve 100 percent sustainable packaging within the next 6 years, by 2020.

Carbon Negative Packaging For Dell

Dell expects to launch AirCarbon packaging this fall, in the form of sleeves for its new notebook series, Dell Latitude.

The initial rollout will be in the US, but eventually Dell anticipates introducing it globally.

Dell has also introduced bamboo and wheat straw packaging, which aside from the renewability benefits has saved the company $18 million through the elimination of 20 million pounds of packaging.

Dell expects additional savings from AirCarbon because it is less expensive to manufacture than petroleum-based plastics.

While bamboo and wheat straw have the potential to close in on carbon neutrality, AirCarbon takes it to a whole new level by removing more carbon from the air than it takes to manufacture.

Carbon Negativity And AirCarbon

As for the AirCarbon itself, usually when things sound to be true there’s a catch, but in the field of carbon negativity the math is pretty transparent.

AirCarbon™ (previously known as AirFlex) is manufactured based on a revved-up microbial fermentation process, which the company has had third-party verified to quantify its carbon negativity.


The fermentation operation produces linear polyesters (PHAs or polyhydroxyalkanoates), which bacteria use to store carbon and energy. Further processing results in AirCarbon, a renewable, biodegradable plastic that NewLight claims has the performance equivalence of polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene, and other common plastics.

For what it’s worth, the major Wisconsin institutional furniture products company KI is also adopting AirCarbon for its product line, and last we heard Virgin also had expressed interest in making AirCarbon phone cases.

We’re also going to note that while David and Charles Koch have been grabbing a lot of headlines recently (thanks in part to US Senator Harry Reid), the “invisible” Koch brother has also been making waves in the anti-clean tech pool.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Hans

    The previous article on this product did not explain how it can be carbon negative. Contributions in the comments section of that previous article suggested the claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Would be nice to have an article about that. Maybe not by Tina, since she seems allergic to clear technical explanations.

    • Kiwiiano

      Agreed, the same plastics are shown as recycling round and round, but every stage has fossil fuel involvement. “Ship”, “manufacture”,”sort”, etc. Most people don’t realise the MASSIVE changes we are going to have to make to the debauched lifestyles that a century or so of cheap energy has allowed us to enjoy. Cutting back by 90% involves a lot of sacrifices or at least evaluations of what we really need.

  • Poechewe

    The Koch brothers have had at least 25 years to recognize the reality of global warming as well as the reality of tightening fossil fuel supplies with all their production problems. How does one sympathize with such industrialists when oil, one of their main products, jumps in price more than 300% over 15 years during an era when inflation has been on the low side? Of course, in their interpretation of capitalism, they may have cheerfully anticipated those prices years earlier without noticing the consequences they would have on average Americans, and the consequences to the economy. But how could such savvy businessmen be so blind to the falling prices of solar and wind?

    The Koch brothers were smart businessmen in the 70s and 80s and even today cannot be underestimated. And yet, although their business empire continues to grow, they risk falling behind the times because of their consuming political activity.

    Of course, being who they are, they will continue to be worth watching closely.

  • Michael Berndtson

    What’s weird to me is that David H. Koch gave $125 million or so to MIT for chemical engineering technologies department called: David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice. [ I can’t figure out if this is a division of MIT’s Chemical Engineering department or not. Any help?]

    Anyway, both David H. and the father were and are chemical engineers. Koch Industries future depends on innovations combining the fundamentals of chemical engineering (process optimization/control, transport phenomena, chemical kinetics and thermodynamics) with biology. Even the hard rock mining and petroleum exploitation based college I went to includes biology in the title of its chemical engineering division. Hell, even good old fashion petroleum hydrocarbon exploitation is based on the fundamentals of anaerobic sulfur reducing bacteria. That’s the essential mechanism for getting a pile of dead plankton, algae, biomass et al to become gas, oil and coal. Getting the bugs to do more of the value added processing (i.e. plastics) is not a stretch, at all.

    Basically scale up from lab flask to plant vessel of biological/chemical engineering principles is the holy grail for energy and materials industries. Exxon and Craig Vintner know this from algae to fuel process engineering. Why Koch puts so much effort and money in policy steering to submarine innovation is beyond my comprehension. Unless he/they are more obsessed with their faith in Ayn Randian libertarianism than the future of their businesses.

  • Banned by Bob

    Another cleanup on Aisle 5

    Largest US Polyethylene producers


    Largest US Polypropylene producers


Back to Top ↑