A solution to creating a circular carbon economy

If someone were to ask for the link between a highend fragrance, workout gear, cleaning products and runway-worthy fashion, it’s unlikely anyone would answer that they’re all made from the emissions produced by a steel mill.

And while it’s actually true, the more correct answer might be that they’re the product of state-of-the-art science and a vision to help solve an urgent problem.

LanzaTech has commercialised technology that uses biology to recycle carbon, enabling a circular carbon economy.

“We think the world has enough carbon above the ground to make everything we need,” says James Daniell, LanzaTech’s Director of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Biology. “So we’ve developed a system to take carbon being emitted from large industrial plants and turn it into biofuels and chemicals using a microbial process. We’re working to engineer biology to design new and improved microbes.”

LanzaTech uses the analogy of a brewery to explain its process: yeast turns sugar into beer; LanzaTech uses bacteria to turn waste into ethanol and other chemicals.

Early funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (now part of MBIE) helped get LanzaTech going at a difficult time for startups.

Co-founder Sean Simpson says throughout and following the Global Financial Crisis there was no liquidity.

“We won a big grant that kept our burn rate sufficiently low that allowed us to eke out the dollars we raised offshore. It was a fraction of the amount of total money we have raised but we received it at a critical time, and it enabled everything that happened afterwards.”

Today, LanzaTech’s process is used in numerous places across the globe, and as well as producing chemical products, it has a sister company producing sustainable jet fuel. LanzaTech is also listed on the Nasdaq (LNZA).

Callaghan Innovation played a key role in LanzaTech's development through its R&D Solutions (RDS) arm, which helped with prototyping. The agency also assisted the company in applying for the Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI).


We think the world has enough carbon above the ground to make everything we need.

James Daniell Director of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Biology

LanzaTech has a number of research collaborations with US universities and joint development agreements with companies – that’s how the Gucci fragrance, the Lululemon workout gear and the Zara clothing range came about. The products all use recycled carbon and stand as examples of how companies can reduce the use of fossil fuels in their supply chains.

While LanzaTech’s headquarters may be in Skokie, Illinois; its plants in China, Japan and under construction elsewhere; and its offices all over the world, the company’s roots are firmly in Aotearoa New Zealand. Daniell is committed to growing the 10-strong Auckland-based R&D team.

LanzaTech has also left its mark on New Zealand in a way Sir Paul Callaghan would have firmly endorsed. Several of its former employees have gone on to found innovative companies of their own. These include Mint Innovation, which recycles e-waste to extract gold and critical metals, and Dotterel Technologies, specialising in developing noise reduction and audio recording solutions for drones. Several have used Callaghan Innovation products and services as an integral part of their development.

As Daniell says, companies working in the cleantech space cannot do it on their own. “Our success has been thanks to our investors, customers, partners and organisations like Callaghan Innovation.

“Right now, we’re focused on the commercial deployment of our technology and scaling it up. The more carbon emissions and pollution we can capture, the more products we can make.”

At a glance

  • Founded in 2005
  • Founded by Sean Simpson, Richard Forster. CEO is Jennifer Holmgren
  • Based in Skokie, Illinois
  • Recycling carbon using biological processes
  • Three licensed commercial facilities, three more expected to start this year, 1,300 patents, 400 global employees
  • Visit website

Callaghan Innovation impact

  • Assistance to apply for Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI)
  • Early R&D Solutions (RDS) support for the purpose of prototyping
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