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Waste Gases Power Chemical Start-Ups

Feedstocks: Firms that promise polymers and other materials from emissions gain traction

by Melody M. Bomgardner
May 30, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 22

Three start-ups seeking to capture the value of carbon in waste gases have received fresh backing from investors and consumer goods companies. The firms say their technologies can produce chemicals and plastics cost-competitively using greenhouse gases that otherwise would be emitted into the atmosphere.

Credit: Liquid Light
A Liquid Light employee assembles an electrocatalytic cell that makes ethylene glycol from CO2.
A Liquid Light worker assembles an electrochemical cell. The cell produces ethylene glycol from waste gas CO2 and added hydrogen
Credit: Liquid Light
A Liquid Light employee assembles an electrocatalytic cell that makes ethylene glycol from CO2.

Austin, Texas-based Skyonic has raised $12.5 million from investors ConocoPhillips and Enbridge to further develop its technology to convert CO2 emissions into chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and calcium carbonate. Last year, the company raised $128 million from investors. Skyonic operates a demonstration facility at a cement plant in San Antonio and is also building a commercial-scale plant there.

In April, Skyonic received a $500,000 grant from the nonprofit Climate Change & Emissions Management Corp. CCEMC, which is supported by the province of Alberta, provides funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through new technology.

Liquid Light, a start-up developing a CO2-to-ethylene glycol process, also recently won a $500,000 CCEMC grant. The New Jersey-based firm says its low-energy electrochemical cell uses commonly available catalysts to make chemical intermediates from waste gas. The company plans to build a 1-ton-per-day pilot plant in Canada with a major chemical partner.

And Newlight Technologies, which uses a biocatalyst to make polymers from waste methane and CO2, has already found customers for its polyhydroxyalkanoate. Dell will use the polymer to manufacture sleeves for its Latitude notebook computers beginning this fall. According to Dell, the packaging is both greener and less costly than traditional oil-based plastics.

Although most renewable chemicals on the market today are made from sugar, making products from waste is a key goal for companies in the sector, says Julia Allen, an analyst at Lux Research. “Using a lower- or no-cost feedstock could potentially have a huge impact on the economics of a process.” But the firms still have a long way to go to prove their technologies. “Waste gas streams can vary in composition from day to day and from plant to plant,” Allen says.



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