Carbon material synthesis through sustainable bio-manufacturing methods

Emergy has developed a versatile bio-manufacturing process to make low cost advanced porous carbon materials for energy storage and filtration applications. Emergy’s platform technology utilizes the efficient biomechanics of filamentous organisms to produce tunable material properties through a bottom-up approach. The use of a robust biological system also allows for the utilization of waste carbon sources such as industrial wastewater as a renewable feedstock. Ultimately, this process facilitates low cost and sustainable manufacturing of porous carbon materials with select characteristics directed towards specific applications. For example, Emergy can produce low cost, high surface area, pure carbon electrodes for supercapacitors from the treatment of brewery wastewater.

Critical need for this technology

With a growing global population, there is an ever-increasing demand for carbon-based materials used in applications such as energy storage, filtration, and catalysis. Conventional production of porous carbon materials consumes non-renewable or limited feedstock materials, such as coal, wood, or coconut husks. The development of efficient manufacturing methods, using sustainable feedstocks, and with the smallest energy use and greenhouse gas footprint possible, is needed to meet growing demand without causing environmental and societal harm.

Recently carbon-based nanomaterials have shown unprecedented physical and chemical properties such as high strength, excellent resistance to corrosion and exceptional electrical and thermal conduction and stability. Because of these unique features, carbon-based materials are in high demand for products across many fields, but new manufacturing methods are costly and energy intensive and can have negative environmental impacts. However, those based on energy efficiency and renewable feedstocks have competing applications with lower cost and external impacts.

Supplemental needs for this technology

  • The Emergy platform can produce low cost, high performance, carbon-based materials with different characteristics targeted for specific applications such as energy storage, filtration, and catalysis.
  • It can replace refined petroleum, mined graphite, and geographically and supply limited biomass as a feedstock materials, which would help reduce the US dependence on foreign imports or unsustainable biomass harvesting/production.
  • The elimination of energy intensive processing steps used to in the traditional production of carbon will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Competition

  • Waste2Watergy, an Oregon State University-based startup producing electricity during wastewater treatment.
    • Emergy advantage: Much lower capital and operation costs.
  • Breweries developing biogas production strategies.
    • Emergy advantage: Much lower capital and operation costs. Allows breweries to focus on brewing beer.
  • Commercial manufactures of porous carbon from feedstock, including coal, wood, nutshells and coconut husks
    • Emergy advantage: Does not require expensive and energy intensive processing steps. Tunability in the growth stage unlocks in a single process transition properties such as variations in chemistry, dopants and microstructure. Surface area and purity levels for Emergy’s product are greater than conventional materials.
      • Emergy cost estimate: $51 per ton using industrial waste streams and $381 per ton without versus $800 to $2,500 per ton for traditional products, depending on quality.
  • Commercial manufactures of mined graphite or refined petroleum used for electrochemical applications.
    • Emergy advantage: Does not generate harmful emissions or toxic mining byproducts. Does not require expensive and energy intensive processing steps. Tunability in the growth stage unlocks in a single process transition properties such as variations in chemistry, dopants and microstructure.
      • Emergy cost estimate: $51 per ton using industrial waste streams and $381 per ton without versus $8,000 per ton for traditional products.

Potential markets

  • The initial target market is device manufactures filtering/refining water, oil and natural gas, chemicals, and biofuels.
  • Follow-up markets include supercapacitor and fuel cell electrode manufacturers and carbon black supplies.

Value proposition: Compared to traditional porous carbon production processes, Emergy’s platform technology produces a lower cost and in many cases, higher performing material, that can be produced near the customer to reduce distribution costs, logistics, and have lower negative environmental impact.

Key innovation

Emergy’s platform technology uses a filamentous organism to capture renewable and sustainable carbon from wastewater as a base for creating a variety of tunable porous carbons. These materials are cheaper to manufacture and have a smaller environmental impact than current carbon-based products.

R&D status of product

Emergy has currently produced several pre-commercial prototype materials, such as a lithium-ion anode, supercapacitor electrode, and solid block filter. Emergy is also working with Avery brewing company to test wastewater treatment efficiency and materials production.

Team Overview

Co-Founder
Tyler Huggins
A Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. A master’s degree in environmental and sustainability engineering from the University of Colorado, Denver. A bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Montana.

Co-Founder
Justin Whiteley
A Ph.D. and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. A bachelor’s degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

Advisors

Dr. Jason Ren
A professor at the University of Colorado Boulder that specializes in resource recovery during wastewater treatment. Dr. Ren is well respected in both the private and public sectors, has raised millions of dollars in funding, and has several patented and licensed inventions.

Dr. Sehee Lee
A professor at the University of Colorado Boulder that specializes in developing new and advanced energy storage materials and devices. Several battery-based start-up companies have been launched out of his lab, including Solid Power and Silion.

Background Resources

Video: Beer to Batteries – A CU Boulder Innovation

Fact sheet: Biodesigned porous carbon enables customized performance

Infographic: Emergy technology comparision

Relevant Publications

Controlled Growth of Nanostructured Biotemplates with Cobalt and Nitrogen Codoping as a Binderless Lithium-Ion Battery Anode ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2016, 8 (40), pp 26868–26877
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b09300

Company Profile

  • Total Amount Raised: 0
  • Status: Private
  • Year Founded: 2015
  • Patents: 2 provisional
  • Primary Industry: Industrial filtration, energy storage
  • Category: Carbon materials, manufacturing processes
  • Estimated annual revenue: $10M
  • Employs: 2 people
  • Social Challenge: Sustainable energy and energy-efficient manufacturing
  • R&D commercial collaborator: None

Latest Updates

See All