Close up of white running shoe
On's new CleanCloud process creates high-performance foam from carbon emissions. (Photo: On Running)
Outside Business Journal

On Running Is Making Shoe Foam from Carbon Emissions

The company’s new CleanCloud process might help turn factory emissions into running shoes

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Zürich-based On is taking strides to combat climate change with a new EVA foam made from factory carbon emissions. The company could patent the process. But On representatives say they would rather share it with the world.

CleanCloud is an EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam process that’s the result of a partnership between On, LanzaTech, Technip Energies, and Borealis, according to Nils Altogge, On’s head of technology innovation. It essentially sucks carbon out of the air and turns it into high-performance foam for shoes. The company announced the creation of its first shoe incorporating the technology, the Cloudprime, on September 15.

“Together with our partners we’re pioneering technology to move away from fossil fuel resources,” Altogge said. “We’ve finished the proof of concept by making a handful of pairs [of Cloudprimes] on a pilot scale to show the world that it is possible to make materials and shoes from carbon emissions.”

How It Works

The CleanCloud process is complex, but it essentially hinges on carbon being captured from factory emissions before it can enter the atmosphere. The carbon is then fermented and turned into a liquid ethanol using bacteria, a process not unlike making beer. That liquid is dehydrated to form ethylene gas before being polymerized to become EVA pellets that can then be processed into performance foam.

On joins a growing number of activewear companies developing environmentally friendly manufacturing methods and using more recycled components in their products. Nike says its new fleece production process, Forward, reduces carbon emissions by 75 percent compared to standard methods, and Reebok’s new Nano X1 Vegan line of trainers uses plant-based materials in its construction.

“With CleanCloud, we’ve discovered the ability to create a high-performance EVA foam that can be used across industries,” Altogge said. “This innovation has the potential to impact the fashion and footwear space as well as broader applications, considering the materials in every mattress, in cars and airplane seats, packaging, and more. It is a solution that can touch many different industries.”

Sharing the Tech

A different company might have chosen to patent the technology, but Altogge said that On plans to share the process widely to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“We are not interested in keeping the know-how for us, but rather be open to share this technology within and outside the industry,” he said. “One of our objectives is transparency and education. We recognize that many people and organizations are on the same journey towards a positive social environmental impact, and we want to share our learnings as openly as possible.”

Altogge said it will take at least three years before CleanCloud foam is incorporated into the global production of On shoes. Pricing will be managed to make it competitive with other EVA-foam products, he said.

“This proof of concept is a meaningful step forward, while also signaling there is still significant work to be done,” he said. “To scale this technology across the industry, it will require enthusiasm and investment not only from fellow brands within the industry, but from consumers as well.”

Founded in 2010, On has a strong track record of environmental consciousness. In June 2022 On released its Cyclon subscription service, which allows customers to return and recycle worn-out shoes in exchange for a new pair. Its Cloudneo shoe, made partially from castor beans, was released around the same time and billed as the first fully recyclable performance running shoe. On also co-founded the Low Impact Alliance, a U.S.-based community of retailers, brands, and runners committed to expanding environmental responsibility in the industry.

“Saving the planet is a team sport,” Altogge said. “We pledge to share our progress and learnings openly. The environmental crisis can only be averted if we move fast, together.”

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Lead Photo: On Running