Alcantara Goes Deep On Decarbonization (+ Bonus Tesla Angle)

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CleanTechnica will be reporting from Venice, Italy, this week, where we’ll be covering the international symposium “Coping with Change: Global Warming and Decarbonization.” Partners in the event are Venice International University and the innovative textile company Alcantara. Alcantara launched in the 1970s with a signature line of synthetic material geared to automotive interiors and it has recently branched out into other areas, so this is a good chance to see how carbon-focused companies are adapting to — and in some cases, leading — the low carbon economy of the future.

Alcantara decarbonization carbon emissions

Alcantara is sponsoring CleanTechnica for this week’s event and if the name rings a bell, you may be thinking of that little dust-up over a certain on-the-fly interior design change that Tesla engineered for its Model 3 EV, in which the apparent promise of Alcantara fabric was superseded by, well, something not as nice. Cue the outrage! Just goes to show that the Alcantara brand continues to influence consumers. The question now is whether the company can help lead its peers in business toward a more sustainable model.

How A Carbon Company Copes With Decarbonization

Alcantara is an Italian brand made in Italy, though its chemistry comes directly from a patented product developed by a Miyoshi Okamoto, a Japanese scientist with the company Toray Industries Inc.

The Italian connection came about in 1972, when the ENI Group partnered with Toray. The R&D roots of the company kept growing, and in the early 2000s it embarked on a major diversification and production overhaul.

That’s just around the time when the corporate sustainability and responsibility movements began to gather steam. In 2009, Alcantara modernized its processes yet again, this time with a focus on decarbonization. The initial goal was cutting its carbon emissions in half. The company went on to earn cradle-to-grave EU Carbon Neutrality certification by 2011, through the use of renewable energy credits.

Recent projects include a cogeneration plant and a bioremediation system for waste from its production facility in Italy.

Of course the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the fossil source for Alcantara’s polymer feedstock, but it appears that the gorilla is getting the heave-ho. The company has already begun introducing some renewables into its supply chain and it is aiming for a 100% bio-based product by 2020.

So far the sources include corn stover, rice straw, sugarcane bagasse (the part left over from sugar production), and general agricultural waste, along with other wood derivatives and byproducts from paper mills.

Getting Serious About Decarbonization

Last year Alcantara also became a member of the United Nations Global Compact decarbonization and sustainability initiative, which explains why the lineup of this week’s symposium includes Dr. Georg Kell, who is the founder and former Executive Director of the UNGC.

The symposium is designed to get a handle on the impacts that climate change are already having on life, both human and corporate, and explore technological solutions, so that’s right up the CleanTechnica alley.

Aside from Dr. Kell, we’ll bring you some thoughts from Alcantara Chairman and CEO Andrea Boragno, who will kick things off with a discussion of decarbonization and carbon neutrality, and the International Energy Agency’s Cecilia Tam with a decarbonization report from her agency’s perspective.

The symposium is also going to connect the dots between inequality,  carbon intensity, and “inclusive growth,” with a focus on social impact investments and the role of finance.

As for how business expects to stay afloat during decarbonization, the symposium is taking a close look at the impact on business models and behaviors. We’re anticipating some interesting remarks on the energy side of that issue, especially from Dr. Paul Jefferiss, Head of Policy, Long Term Planning and Policy at BP.

For those of you who haven’t caught up with BP lately, the company’s ill-fated “Beyond Petroleum” campaign withered on the vine, but the company’s decarbonization strategy appears to have come back in force with the recent acquisition of the solar company Lightsource.

Speaking of electric vehicles, the symposium includes carmakers Toyota and Honda and their vision of the “hydrogen society.” For Toyota, the pivot is the company’s hydrogen fuel cell electric Mirai. Adoption has been slow on the consumer end, but government fleet managers are beginning to incorporate the zero-emission car into their decarbonization plans (as always, with the qualifier that a more sustainable solution will come about when renewable sources replace natural gas for hydrogen production).

Last but certainly not least, the symposium will address “How should Communication close the gap among science, corporations and people?”

That’s a long row to hoe, especially in the US where a chorus of anti-science voices has transmigrated from right wing media and state-level shenanigans to the upper reaches of the federal government, most obviously in the form of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. (the odd semi-exception in a key role is Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who cheerleads for Trump administration policies on climate change and “energy dominance” but also aggressively promotes his agency’s decarbonization mission).

As for that Tesla kerfluffle, don’t be surprised if the company comes around to meet the standards of other high performance vehicles in the Alcantara stable.

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Image: via Alcantara.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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