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Syzygy Plasmonics raises millions to slash emissions from chemical manufacturing

A modern chemical plant with lights illuminating its steel pipes.
Image Credit: Wix

In its largest round to date, Houston startup, Syzygy Plasmonics raised $76 million in Series C funding for their deep decarbonization technology.

In astronomy, the company’s name, Syzygy, refers to the alignment of three celestial bodies. Launched in 2018, the company co-founders Trevor Best and Suman Khatiwada, and scientific co-founders Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander sought to align energy, technology, and sustainability in a perfect eclipse to accelerate our energy transition and decarbonize the emissions-black hole of chemical manufacturing.

According to Syzygy’s co-founder and CEO, Trevor Best, the startup’s goal is to achieve one gigaton of carbon emissions reductions by 2040. “Series C financing is a key milestone in building towards that goal,” he said in a statement.

One singular gigaton may not sound like much. But actually, this is equivalent to ensuring one billion metric tons of carbon or 10,000 fully-loaded U.S. aircraft carriers never reach the atmosphere.

Syzygy is electrifying chemical manufacturing. Rather than relying on thermal energy, the typical output of fossil fuel-based combustion, the company harnesses the power of light to energize chemical reactions, imagining a cleaner and dramatically more efficient way of chemical manufacturing. According to the company, this approach is designed to reduce feedstock waste while producing fewer emissions when powered by renewable electricity.

Born out of Rice University, the technology builds on two decades of research conducted by researchers Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander. Halas, who is a chemist, physicist and engineer and Nordlander, a computational physicist invented the technology while investigating the interactions of light and matter at the nanoscale.

Syzygy is combining two major recent breakthroughs from the duo. The first is their invention of high-performance photocatalysts. These photocatalysts – the material which absorbs light to energize the reactor – sit at the heart of technology. The invention won the duo the prestigious Eni Energy Transition Award in August. The second breakthrough is the duo’s engineered the novel reactor. Cheaper than conventional reactors, Syzygy uses common low-cost materials like glass, aluminum, and LEDs instead of high-cost metal alloys.

Led by Carbon Direct Capital with participation from Aramco Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, LOTTE CHEMICAL, and Toyota Ventures, capital raised will fund further development and delivery of all-electric reactor systems, scheduled to ship in 2023. The round builds on $35 million-worth of grants the startup received from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

Syzygy’s goal is to clean up the emissions-heavy chemical industry, which produces over 180 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses a year. Over the last decade, the industry has roughly increased emissions by 2%, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. According to the company, success in decarbonizing these hard-to-abate processes is “not about funding, politics, or the will to change. It’s about chemistry and physics.”

Syzygy says they have the chemistry and physics aligned to shift the paradigm, by making the industry's reactions completely combustion-free. Reportedly, the startup’s universal chemical reactor platform can utilize different feedstocks to drive multiple, fundamental chemical reactions. This means that one day, chemicals like hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol that enable our everyday lives from clothes to electricity, could be produced with lower emissions.

"The projects we are delivering are targeting zero-emissions hydrogen from green ammonia, low-emissions hydrogen from combustion-free steam methane reforming, and sustainable fuels made from carbon dioxide and methane,” co-founder Khatiwada said. “This technology is the future of chemical manufacturing."


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