On Running have started making shoes out of actual pollution

Is this is the ultimate form of recycling, turning greenhouse gasses into gear?

(Image credit: On Running)

Switzerland-based running brand On this week released a shoe with a foam midsole made from carbon carbon emissions. Yep, not one that is made using a process that merely reduces emissions, but one that has a central component constructed from a substance that would otherwise end up as greenhouse gasses. 

The new shoes will incorporate a new EVA foam called CleanCloud, and the technology behind it has been developed in co-operation with LanzaTech and Borealis. Caspar Coppetti, co-founder and executive co-chairman of On says: It’s a win-win situation: we are capturing emissions before they pollute our atmosphere and are at the same time moving away from fossil-based materials.”


(Image credit: On Running)

According to the On website, the process involves intercepting carbon emissions before they escape into the atmosphere, then fermenting the carbon monoxide into liquid ethanol, before dehydrating it (when it becomes  ethylene) and then polymerizing it into EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), used as foam in the shoes.

Sound complicated? Well that’s because it is, and the people behind it have been working on this process since 2018.

“It has been emotional – the most intense project I ever worked on,” says Nils Altrogge, On’s Head of Technology Innovation. “There were times when I had tears in my eyes, I was so frustrated,” he admits. “But we never stopped believing we could find solutions. The next day, I would wake up, everything would look better, and we’d go again.” 

But this week, Altogge finally was able to reveal the first shoe to include the revolutionary material, the Cloudprime, a limited number of which were released on 15 September.

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

“With CleanCloud, we’ve discovered the ability to create a high-performance EVA foam that can be used across industries,” Altogge continued. “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.”

Ultimately, On Running intend to use CleanCloud foam across their entire range, including the Cloudmonster, one of the best running shoes available.

Pat Kinsella
Freelance outdoor writer

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat Kinsella has been writing about outdoor pursuits and adventure sports for two decades. In pursuit of stories he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked across the Norwegian Alps, run ultras across the roof of Mauritius and through the hills of the Himalayas, and set short-lived speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. A former editor of several Australian magazines he’s a longtime contributor to publications including Sidetracked, Outdoor, National Geographic Traveller, Trail Running, The Great Outdoors, Outdoor Fitness and Adventure Travel, and a regular writer for Lonely Planet (for whom he compiled, edited and co-wrote the Atlas of Adventure, a guide to outdoor pursuits around the globe). He’s authored guides to exploring the coastline and countryside of Devon and Dorset, and recently wrote a book about pub walks. Follow Pat's adventures on Strava and instagram.