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Rubi Labs wants to bring carbon-capture tech to retailers’ supply chains

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Rubi Labs, which develops technology that makes carbon-negative textiles, is bringing its carbon-capture tech to Walmart in a new partnership.

Why it matters: As retailers become more concerned with emissions, demand is increasing for technologies to help cut carbon footprints.

What's happening: In its first pilot with Walmart, Rubi says it will use modular reactor systems that integrate on-site with one of Walmart's carbon-producing manufacturers to capture and convert carbon dioxide that could then be used to create cellulose fibers.

  • The second pilot will involve experimenting with Rubi's cellulose fiber's performance to develop a prototype garment and eventually design a small apparel collection.
  • The company isn't sharing any financial details about the partnership, but only said there is a fee associated with the pilot.

How it works: Rubi uses a cell-free biocatalysis process fueled by enzymes to capture and convert carbon dioxide from manufacturing facilities' waste streams into cellulose.

  • The cellulose can then be used to create lyocell yarn, which can go into clothing and other materials.
  • The company is focusing on delivering a product that is the same quality to customers and can be done in a way that's affordable, Rubi CEO Neeka Mashouf tells Axios.
  • Especially for retailers like Walmart, "they put a lot of emphasis on the cost of a new technology because they really focus on accessibility in general to consumers."
  • It hopes to leverage the pilot to confirm that its tech is ready for integration into brands' supply chains, and it plans to use offtake, or longer-term agreements with the brands annually around sourcing.

Catch up fast: Earlier this year, Rubi snagged $8.7 million in a seed round led by Talis Capital, alongside Patagonia's Tin Shed Ventures, H&M Group, Collaborative Fund and Necessary Ventures.

  • This brought the company's total funding to $13.5 million.
  • It also launched pilot partnerships with Reformation, Ganni, Nuuly, H&M and Patagonia at the time.
  • All of the pilots are in Phase 1 — the feasibility study — except for Ganni, which has completed Phase 1 with the debut of a yarn and is currently in Phase 2, where a prototype of the garment is being designed.

What's next: The company is starting with a handful of brands, but it aims to scale quickly so that it's able to serve the entire industry over a year's time frame, Mashouf says.

  • It hopes to expand its tech into other areas like food, building materials and packaging.
  • "It doesn't just stop with apparel, we see broader applications to this as well, which is why we started these partnerships with Rubi," says Kyle Carlyle, a senior vice president of supplier development and sourcing at Walmart.
  • Our goal is to become "the next era of manufacturing, which can be carbon negative, and positive," Mashouf says.
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