We recycle metal, plastic, paper, so why not carbon dioxide? That’s the question that NRG Energy posed to the audience on Wednesday at New York Fashion Week, where the utility company hosted a panel that included Nina Garcia, creative director of Marie Claire; Paul Bunje, principal at XPrize; Marcel Botha, CEO of 10xBeta, Burak Cakmak, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design; and model and fashion designer Coco Rocha. Addressing a room at Skylight Clarkson Sq in Lower Manhattan, NRG Energy vice president Gin Kinney unveiled a prototype sneaker that incorporates captured carbon dioxide in the foam of its sole. The “Shoe Without a Footprint” is symbolic of NRG Energy’s commitment to reducing and repurposing carbon emissions, Kinney said.

FUTURE OF FOOTWEAR

With a sleek aesthetic, courtesy of former Nike designer Dwayne Edwards, the shoe is also the type of innovation that NRG Energy hopes will to see from the NRG Cosia Carbon XPrize, an international competition that will award $20 million to technologies that harness carbon emissions, particularly those from coal- and gas-fired power plants, in creative new ways.


“If we can take carbon dioxide and turn it into a shoe, we can potentially turn it into anything,” XPrize’s Bunje said.


NRG Energy is tight-lipped about the specifics of its proprietary process, which it developed with 10xBeta. Botha, the project’s manager, revealed, however, that they developed five types of foam, but chose, in the end, to proceed with the material that best combined their desire for high recycled carbon-dioxide content with practical features such as shock absorption.

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Eventually, the same process could be used to create the shoe upper—or just about everything your mind can think of.

“We’re thinking about fuels you can power a car with, cement you might build a building out of, polymers like polyester that you can actually wear like a sneaker,” XPrize’s Bunje said. “The ‘Shoe Without a Footprint’ won’t solve the carbon crisis, but if we can take carbon dioxide and turn it into a shoe, we can potentially turn it into anything.”