🏭 Hypothetical tailwinds

Dioxycle’s $17m Series A, wood thinning and cellulosic ethanol, and ammonia.

Good morning. Curious about Dioxycle—if CO2 is produced in a decentralized manner (i.e. many disparate point sources), but if ethylene consumers are centralized (i.e. only the big plants consume it), then who would Dioxycle sell the ethylene it produces to, and how?

From the condenser:
· Dioxycle’s $17m Series A
· Wood thinning and cellulosic ethanol
· MOTD: ammonia

CO2 electrolysis is getting funded

French-American CO2 electrolysis startup, Dioxycle, just raised a $17 million Series A funding round that was co-led by Lowercarbon Capital and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Wait, what does Dioxycle want to do?
Dioxycle is developing a process that selectively electrolyzes CO2 to ethylene via their “cost-effective catalytic technologies, proprietary high-efficiency stack design, and advanced process integration schemes”. The idea isn’t to build enormous electrolyzer stacks, but to build small ones, and to strap them onto smaller CO2 emitters at the source.

Okay, so they raised money?
The $17 million that they raised from those climate tech funds will go towards two key items: 1) hiring individuals with experience scaling electrolyzers (remember, we do electrolysis at scale already), and 2) building their first on-site demonstration of their process technology.

Looking forward:
With just two carbons in its backbone, ethylene is a small molecule, so we need to make it a) directly from another short molecule, b) by splitting up a larger molecule, or c) as a co-product of some other process. At a high level, a) is like cracking ethane or dehydrating ethanol, b) is like cracking bio-based or petroleum-based naphtha, and c) is bad for market dynamics. Highly selective electrochemistry opens the door to other short molecules (i.e. not just ethane and ethanol), but ethylene may not be the right target for the scale that we need—maybe converting CO2 to ethylene glycol is a better move, since it could ride Origin's hypothetical tailwinds, since it has relatively few end markets, and since less scaling is needed.

Not your typical cellulosic ethanol

Japanese conglomerate, Sumitomo, and French process technology company, Axens, signed an agreement with a project developer to launch a joint study on wood-based cellulosic ethanol.

A little background:
At a high level, you can think of biomass (plants, trees, etc.) as being composed of two types of polymers: polymers for energy storage, and polymers for structure. Your energy storage polymers are amylose and amylopectin (jointly referred to as starch) and your structural polymers are cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin (jointly referred to as lignocellulose).

Okay, so what’s the deal here?
To reduce the risk of wildfires, California cuts down parts of its forests (they call it thinning), which means they are wasting a lot of wood—or, at least it’s not clear to me what they’re currently doing with that wood. Long story short, that project developer sees an opportunity to valorize that wood with Axens’ cellulosic ethanol process (which was developed in 2008 as a consortium of 11 partners).

Bigger picture:
Cellulosic ethanol isn’t a new idea and wood waste isn’t a new feedstock. What has changed here is the incentives: they are looking at using that wood-based ethanol to produce sustainable aviation fuel (aka SAF, and presumably by dehydration and a little oligomerization) and other chemicals (the go-to is usually ethylene, see above and Wednesday’s edition). The former, SAF, is being heavily subsidized via the Inflation Reduction Act.

Some more headlines

  • This berry supplier is switching over to recycled PET for its containers

  • Black & Veatch are getting into sustainable aviation fuel development

  • Clariant Catalysts is sponsoring an award that funds decarbonization research

  • Solvay will co-develop biological products for agriculture with a university

  • The Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees joined Cyclyx's plastic recycling consortium

Molecule of The Day

Today's MOTD is a personal favorite… ammonia.

Throughout the classical era, people used an ammonia solution to wash clothes, remove hair from hides, and even remove dust from iron. But that ammonia solution was produced by fermenting urine—a process that is (thankfully) not used widely today. Now, we produce all of our ammonia by using the Haber-Bosch process.

Using that process the world makes over 200 million tons of the molecule each year. About 85% of that ammonia is used to make fertilizers (like urea and ammonium salts). Most of the rest of it is used to make polyamides and nitric acid (5% each). Because of ammonia's ties to fertilizer, it's global production always keeps pace with the increased population and standard of living.

Some of the main producers of ammonia include Yara, CF Industries, and Nutrien.

The reboiler

  • Video: Are you still a student? Give Shawn Esquivel's video on the most important skills to learn a watch.

  • Tip: Investing isn't limited to real estate and securities—check out Alts to learn more about unique investment ideas.*

  • Podcast: Check out this episode on Dr. Greg Newbloom's career, company, and interest in green chemistry.

  • Book: The Alchemy of Air is a must-read for anyone interested in the chemical industry. It's the story behind the Haber-Bosch process that lead to fertilizer—and explosives.*

The bottoms

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