Peng Zhu (left) and Haotian Wang developed a carbon-capture device prototype. Photos courtesy Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

A Rice University lab has developed an efficient, scalable way to capture carbon dioxide — and it just needs to be plugged into a power outlet to work.

The new technology developed in the lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair and an associate professor at Rice, uses electricity to remove carbon dioxide from air capture to induce a water-and-oxygen-based electrochemical reaction. The findings were shared in a study published in Nature last month.

Traditionally, carbon capture requires very energy intensive processes that need high temperatures and for the carbon that's been captured to be regenerated. The process also often requires large-scale infrastructure.

In the Wang lab's method, the small reactor can continuously remove carbon dioxide from a simulated flue gas with nearly 100 percent efficiency, generating between 10 to 25 liters of high-purity carbon using only the power of a standard lightbulb, according to a statement from Rice.

It does not create or consume chemicals, nor does it need to be heated up or pressurized, according to Wang. And it only requires a simple power source.

"The technology can be scaled up to industrial settings—power plants, chemical plants—but the great thing about it is that it allows for small-scale use as well: I can even use it in my office,” Wang says in the statement. “We could, for example, pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and continuously inject that concentrated gas into a greenhouse to stimulate plant growth. We’ve heard from space technology companies interested in using the device on space stations to remove the carbon dioxide astronauts exhale.”

Wang and lab member Peng Zhu, a chemical and biomolecular engineering graduate student at Rice and lead author on the study, initially made the discovery when working on an earlier version of the reactor intended for carbon dioxide utilization.

During this process Zhu noticed that gas bubbles flowed out of the reactor’s middle chamber when producing liquid products like acetic acid and formic acid, and that the number of bubbles would increase when more current was applied to the reactor.

This led the scientists to realize that the reactor was creating carbonate ions that were converted into a continuous flow of high-purity carbon dioxide after passing through the reactor's solid-electrolyte layer.

“Scientific discovery often requires this patient, continuous observation and the curiosity to learn what’s really going on, the choice not to neglect those phenomena that don’t necessarily fit in the experimental frame," Wang said in a statement.

A number of players in the Houston area have been making headway in carbon capture space in recent weeks.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Energy granted more than $45 million in federal funding to four Houston companies to promote the capture, transportation, use, and storage of tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Rice Alliance also recently named 15 startups to its Clean Energy Accelerator. A number of the fledgling companies are focused on carbon management and capture.

Video by Brandon Martin/Rice University

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Houston companies land DOE vouchers for clean tech

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Ten Houston-area companies will receive vouchers from the Department of Energy's latest round of funding to support the adoption of clean energy tech.

The companies are among 111 organizations to receive up to $250,000 in vouchers from the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions, totaling $9.8 million in funding, according to a release from the department.

The voucher program is in collaboration with the Offices of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED), Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). It is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It takes a breadth of tools and expertise to bring an innovative technology from research and development to deployment,” Vanessa Z. Chan, DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of the Office of Technology Transitions, says in a statement. “The Voucher Program will pair 111 clean energy solutions with the support they need from expert voucher providers to help usher new technologies to market.”

In addition to the funding, the program seeks to help small businesses and non-traditional organizations gain access to testing facilities and third-party expertise.

The vouchers come in five different opportunities that focus on different areas of business growth and support:

  • Voucher Opportunity 1 (VO1) - Pre-Demonstration Commercialization Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 2 (VO2) - Performance Validation, Modeling, and Certification Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 3 (VO3) - Clean Energy Demonstration Project Siting/Permitting Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 4 (VO4) - Commercialization Support (for companies with a functional technology prototype)
  • Voucher Opportunity 5 (VO5) - Commercialization Support (for developers, including for-profit firms, that are working to commercialize a prototype that fits a specific technology vertical of interest for DOE)

The 10 Houston-area companies to receive funding, their voucher type and projects include:

  • Terradote Inc. with Big Blue Technologies Inc. (VO2): Full ISO-Compliant Life Cycle Assessment for Clean Energy Technologies
  • Solugen Inc. and Encina with ACTion Battery Technologies L.L.C. and Frontline Waste Holding LLC (Vo2): Barracuda Virtual Reactor Simulation, Validation and Testing
  • Flow Safe with Concept Group LLC and Precision Fluid Control (VO2): Durability Testing of Hydrogen Components, Materials, and Storage Systems
  • Percheron Power LLC (VO4): Fundraising Support
  • Capwell Services Inc. with Banyu Carbon Inc. (VO5): Field Testing Support for Validation of Novel Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Syzygy Plasmonics with Ample Carbon PBC, Terraform Industries, Lydian Labs Inc. and Vycarb Inc. (VO5): Rapid Life Cycle Assessment for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Solidec Inc. with GreenFire Energy (VO5): LCA Calculator Tool for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Encino Environmental Services LLC with Wood Cache, Completion Corp and Carbon Lockdown (VO5): Realtime Above/Underground Gas Monitoring Reporting and Verification, Including Cloud Connectivity for Remote Sites
  • Mati Carbon PBC with Ebb Carbon Inc. (VO5): Community Benefits Assessment and Environmental Justice

Other Texas-based companies to receive funding included Molecular Rebar Design LLC and Talus Renewables from Austin, Deep Anchor Solutions from College Station, and ACTion Battery Technologies LLC from Wichita Falls.

Last October, the DOE also awarded the Houston area more than $2 million for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region.

In December, its Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations also selected a Houston power company for a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage project cost-sharing agreement.

New global report names top cleantech startups to keep an eye on

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Nine Greentown Labs members were recognized on a global list honoring cleantech companies.

Houston-based Fervo Energy was named to Cleantech Group’s Global Cleantech 100 report. Cleantech Group is a research-driven company that aids the public sector, private sector, investors, and also identifies, assesses, and engages with the innovative solutions around climate challenges.

Fervo, a geothermal energy company that specializes in a renewable energy technology that uses hot water to produce electricity, debuted in 2022 on the list, and was honored in the “Energy & Power” category for the second straight year.

The other Greentown Labs, which is dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, companies recognized on the list include:

  • Amogy, a New York-based novel carbon-free energy system using ammonia as a renewable fuel
  • Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a Canadian waste and carbon utilization company
  • Dandelion Energy, New York-based company offering ground source heat pumps for most homes
  • Energy Dome, a Milan-based company addressing the problem of long-duration energy storage
  • e-Zinc, a Canadian company with a breakthrough electrochemical technology for energy storage
  • Nth Cycle, a Massachusetts company with sustainable metal refining
  • Raptor Maps, a Massachusetts company with a software platform for solar assets' performance data management
  • Sublime Systems, a Massachusetts companydeveloping a breakthrough process for low-carbon cement
  • WeaveGrid, a California company working with utilities, automakers, EVSEs, and EV owners to enable and accelerate the electrification of transportation

The number of nominations from the public, a panel, i3, awards and Cleantech Group totaled 25,435 from over 65 countries, which is a 61% increase from the 2023 nomination process. Winners were chosen from a short list of 330 companies by a panel of over 80 industry experts.

While not on the list, Beaumont-based Fortress Energy was mentioned for its electrolyzer supply agreement with Cleantech Group 100 winner Electric Hydrogen.

The Cleantech Group 100 was started 15 years ago.

“In 15 more years, we will be at 2039—by which time, a mere decade out from the ‘net-zero’ target of 2050,” Cleantech Group CEO Richard Youngman says in the report. “I would expect the composition of our annual list to have markedly changed again, and the leading upcoming private companies of that time to reflect such.”