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Vodka From Thin Air: An Unusual Climate Prize Hits a Coronavirus Snag

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“I said, ‘Wow, we’re all in Ithaca,’” Mr. Salfi recalled, and proposed they work together. “Really the main operating principle was, let’s set this business up and compete in the Carbon XPrize.”

They founded Dimensional Energy, with Mr. Salfi as chief executive. The technology uses concentrated sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into industrial energy sources like syngas, which is used to produce jet fuel, diesel and other liquid fuels.

“We mimic natural photosynthesis,” Mr. Salfi said. “We take sunlight and carbon dioxide, and turn it into what becomes industrial nutrients.”

Still, when it comes to sheer marketing potential, the other competitors may struggle to match Air Co.

After Dr. Sheehan and Mr. Constantine joined forces, they needed to scale up, eventually building a 2,500-square-foot facility in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, an area full of artists and industrial spaces. Getting the permits alone took almost two years.

More important, though, they had to show that their vodka actually tasted good. Air Co. entered its vodka in a blind taste test at last year’s Luxury Masters competition and won a gold medal. One panelist said he loved the texture, “which had a little viscosity.”

Mr. Constantine said that more than 60 venues in New York City have signed purchase agreements to buy their vodka. Of course, the coronavirus crisis has put that business on hold, with bars, restaurants and retailers shutting down.

In the meantime, he and Mr. Sheehan are putting vodka production on hold, instead using the alcohol they make for hand sanitizer to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mr. Constantine said they plan to produce 1,600 bottles’ worth. “We’re actually out of product at the moment,” Mr. Constantine said.

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