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UP Catalyst aims to become the largest global provider of green graphite and it's using CO2 to do it

engineer in production facility
Image Credit: UP Catalyst

As UP Catalyst explains on its website, “Our idea grew out of the pain we had as researchers – to give the unwanted waste product a green purpose.” The waste product the company refers to is planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions and the green purpose it gives it is turning it into “green graphite” a material essential across the clean energy transition from batteries for electric vehicles to superconductors needed for magnets to solar cells needed for solar panels. 

As announced this week, the Estonia-based startup raised €4 million ($4.31 million) in funding to scale up its operations, and to move closer to its goal of reducing Europe’s reliance on Chinese carbon materials.

Currently, Europe depends on graphite imports for 99% of its supply.

As the world’s top graphite exporter, responsible for 65% of our capacity, China has recently announced tightened restrictions. This puts other countries that rely on China’s graphite for EV production in a tight spot

That’s why UP Catalyst is aiming to build out the graphite supply chain in its home country of Estonia and become a sustainable and locally sourced option for Europe.

And it’s not just producing any graphite. It’s producing graphite from CO2 emissions. 

“UP Catalyst is redefining the conventional approach to graphite production by turning away from environmentally detrimental fossil fuel methods. We perceive China’s export restrictions not as a barrier but as a catalyst for European green innovation,” Yair Reem, a partner at Extantia, one of UP’s investors said in a statement.

“UP Catalyst stands at the forefront, ready to deliver a dependable, price-competitive, and sustainable solution to address the growing global demand for battery manufacturing.” 

Up Catalyst delivers graphite from CO2 through two different methods. The first uses exhaust gas, which is full of CO2, from heavy industry as feedstock. They use a process called “Molten Salt Carbon Capture” which uses salt as a catalyst for carbon materials and fuel conversion. Its process is powered by wind, solar, or hydro energy resulting in, what the startup says, is a carbon-negative production line. 

The second uses biomass, like wood from trees which stores CO2. UP Catalyst uses the waste from the wood, pulp, and paper industry that is normally burned or dumped into landfills and uses it to produce sustainable graphene. 

The round was led by Berlin-based climate tech VC fund Extantia and supported by Estonia’s state fund SmartCap, along with participation from existing investors Sunly, Little Green Fund, Scottish Baltic Invest, and UniTartu Ventures.

The funds will be used to help UP build an industrial pilot reactor it says will be capable of processing 100 tons of CO2 annually and producing 27 tons of carbon materials. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator, that’s the equivalent of the emissions from 22 cars a year. 

UP says that this facility will make it the largest provider of green graphite in the world. 

According to the startup, the addition of carbon nanomaterials is valuable for the products it makes it into, whether it be the energy storage of batteries or the production of fuel cells.

On top of the technological benefits, by replacing fossil-based graphite with UP Catalyst green graphite, the battery anodes will become CO2-negative, the startup says, reporting that this shift could contribute to avoiding 118.7 megatons of CO2 emissions annually by the year 2030, marking a substantial environmental impact. 

“This carbon supply can cover approximately 20% of the EV battery market’s yearly carbon need in Europe,” Gary Urb CEO of UP Catalyst said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have secured this funding, bringing us one step closer to empowering 4 million car batteries with graphite sourced from CO2 emissions by 2030.” 

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