10. Oct 2022

University spin-out start-up RenewCO2 turns CO2 into precursor chemicals

University spin-out start-up RenewCO2 turns CO2 into precursor chemicals

With chemical production lending to more than 15 % of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions [1], start-up RenewCO2 (Cranford, NJ, USA) announced its spin-out from Rutgers University (Piscataway, NJ, USA), securing an exclusive licensing to scale its novel catalyst technology to convert carbon from hard-to-abate sectors and transform it into a feedstock for carbon-negative, plastic monomers at a fraction of the cost of plastics derived from fossil sources.

Founded by two immigrants out of one of the leading catalyst laboratories in the USA, the start-up has raised over USD 10 million in venture investment and grant funding, including a seed round of over USD 2 million led by Energy Transition Ventures (Houston, TX, USA). RenewCO2 expects to begin supplying its eCUT electrolysis systems to customers by 2025.

Led by Karin Calvinho and Anders Laursen, the RenewCO2 team has extensive experience in catalysis, electrolysers, electrochemistry, chemical and material science. The company has repeatedly demonstrated its novel catalyst can essentially mimic nature's route to reducing CO2 with efficiencies that far exceed those of natural systems by chemically transforming carbon dioxide into chemicals at unprecedented selectivity and high energy efficiency in a single step. The low-cost catalyst has also received broad peer-review attention and several awards, including features in The Royal Society of Chemistry's Energy & Environmental Science journal and the Journal of the American Chemical Society [2, 3].

"When I came to the United States to pursue my graduate degree, I was sure I wanted to advance research in catalysis for renewable energy. When we discovered our catalyst, I knew we had the opportunity to reverse global carbon dioxide levels at a mass scale", stated Calvinho, co-founder and chief technology officer of RenewCO2, also a DOE Chain Reaction Innovations Fellow at Argonne National Lab. "With the potential to decarbonize chemicals, refining, power generation, biofuel production, and many other CO2-emitting processes, we are determined to change the way polymers are made by displacing fossil carbon resources while using renewable energy sources and making sustainable products”.

The plastics industry is responsible for at least 232 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually in the United States [4]. With climate change rapidly intensifying, the petrochemical and chemical industries' defossilisation efforts and customer demand for zero carbon products are driving a focus on CCU technologies, including recently expanded support for CCU in the US Inflation Reduction Act. Energy and industrial CO2 point sources and direct air capture projects are ideal for supplying RenewCO2's modular, scalable eCUT electrochemical conversion process. The RenewCO2 catalyst technology benefits from falling costs and advancements in electrolysis and renewable power, making it both modular and easily scalable into a lower-cost solution than fossil feedstocks. Large CO2 streams can be converted selectively into a range of demonstrated products in a single unit, including the precursors for various plastic materials such as monoethylene glycol (MEG), methylglyoxal, and furandiol. Such plastics and polymers are foundational to manufacturing electronics, appliances, plastic bottles, food containers, textiles, and more.

Previously, the company announced a USD 225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and USD 1.15 million in research and development funding from the Department of Energy (DOE) for its various solutions in utilizing carbon emissions to promote defossilisation in the production stages of the chemical industry. Most recently, it announced an additional USD 200,000 from the DOE with Rutgers for conversion of CO2 to ethanol. The company has won USD 8 million in grants and contracts for eCUT.

"Converting CO2 directly into negative carbon products is a game changer for the climate. With low-cost renewable power, combined falling costs and advancements in electrolysis, the RenewCO2 has the opportunity to be world-changing", said Neal Dikeman, co-founder and partner of Energy Transition Ventures. "They are completely rewriting how we make plastic and chemical products and how these industries will handle carbon emissions, regardless of the price of carbon or credits. We are excited about power to chemicals and working to use renewable energy to make CO2 the low-cost chemicals feedstock of the future, not the present pollutant".

"Climate change is one of, if not the most pressing issues of our time, and the team behind RenewCO2 is working to be a part of the solution", said Tatiana Litvin-Vechnyak, Associate Vice President of Innovation Ventures, the academic technology transfer unit within Rutgers Office for Research that facilitated the exclusive license between the university and RenewCO2. "To take on the task of solving the issue of carbon dioxide is no small feat, and Innovation Ventures is proud to have done our part to help RenewCO2 advance its mission closer towards commercialization".

"Plastic is essential to our society", said Laursen, co-founder and CEO of RenewCO2. "Our innovation was replicating nature's process for making oil and gas over millions of years but doing so in a fraction of a second. More importantly, RenewCO2's eCUT process goes from CO2 to valuable products in a single energy-efficient step, not just conversion to CO or syngas. By harnessing CO2 as the feedstock and building on the rapidly growing field of electrolysis, we can provide companies with an extremely sustainable replacement to fossil fuels when it comes to creating plastics". AT

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter10.pdf
[2] https://www.osti.gov/pages/biblio/1457793
[3] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jacs.1c03428
[4] https://www.reuters.com/


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