Whether it’s a dry Chablis or punchy, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, a glass or two of quality wine can be one of life’s small pleasures.
A phenomenon known as “cork taint” can, however, create a host of problems including rancid smells and an off-putting taste.
It’s a problem that Fredérique Vaquer, a winemaker in the south of France, has first-hand experience of.
“One time, I was with a lot of customers, it was a very important tasting and I opened a magnum,” she told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy.
“I had only one magnum … normally, it’s a beautiful wine and that time it was ‘corky’.”
When it comes to cork tainted wine, the chemical compound 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA, which can make its way into the cork, plays a significant role.
However, in France, a firm called Diam Bouchage has been developing a process that looks to tackle the issue head on through the use of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Dominique Tourneix, the company’s CEO, explained that its system addressed the problem by using pressurized, “supercritical” CO2.
According to a video demonstration on its website, Diam Bouchage takes this supercritical CO2 — a fluid state of carbon dioxide — and injects it into an autoclave containing granulated cork that’s been pre-sifted.
The idea is that the CO2 passes through the cork, removing all the substances, including TCA, that could taint wine.
The CO2 itself is then “removed, filtered and … recycled in a closed circuit,” while the cleaned and purified cork grain is turned into stoppers at a manufacturing site. Diam Bouchage has also developed a product range which incorporates beeswax and a bio-based binding agent.
In his interview with CNBC, CEO Dominique Tourneix explained how by-products of the company’s process could also be recycled and reused.
“Different companies are actually purchasing our extract coming from the cork to use the extract for their cosmetic applications,” he said.
The power of green chemistry
Diam Bouchage’s use of nature-based solutions such as beeswax within an industrial and manufacturing context is also interesting.
Some of the company’s work encompasses so-called “green chemistry.” A relatively broad term, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has defined it as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.”
Paul Anastas is director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. Together with John Warner — a chemist who is now president and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry — Anastas co-authored the book “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice,” a key body of work in the field.
Speaking to CNBC’s Sustainable Energy, he was asked about the relationship between business and science when it came to green chemistry.
“People think I’m joking when they ask, ‘how did you come up with this name, green chemistry, all those years ago?’,” he explained.
“And I say it’s true that green is the color of the environment but here in the U.S. it’s also the color of our money,” he added.
“So this was about how you accomplish both goals at the same time, that you align environmental and health goals with your economic and profitability goals.”