Calgary-based spin-off turns green idea to gold
On the heels of news that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are soaring to record-breaking levels not seen in 800,000 years, Calgary-based SeeO2 Energy is working to reverse the trend. With the launch of its invention that converts greenhouse-gas emissions into high-value fuels and chemicals before they are released into the environment, founders Drs. Paul Addo and Beatriz Molero Sanchez take pride in helping to improve their world.
“Our goal is to transform CO2 from a liability to a profitable asset while reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and lowering our collective carbon footprint at the same time,” says Paul, an expert in energy conversion and storage, advanced materials, and electrochemical systems.
Within University of Calgary Professor Viola Birss’s chemistry laboratory, her two postdoctoral fellows, Paul and Beatriz, developed technology that captures and converts carbon dioxide into high-value products.
With the help of Innovate Calgary, the postdocs transferred the IP from the university to begin their start-up, SeeO2 Energy. The company’s product is a high-temperature electrolyzer that uses CO2 from waste streams, and converts it into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, syngas and pure oxygen, all of which can be used downstream or sold for profit.
Effectively, they’ve been able to turn a green-solution into gold.
“It’s very rewarding to see my research spun off into a start-up company and to know that we’re helping to solve one of our planet’s toughest challenges,” says Paul, who serves as SeeO2 president, CEO and director.
Not only do the good doctors believe in lending a hand to the challenge of climate change, they believe in giving back to a program that benefited them. As former Mitacs Elevate interns, Paul and Beatriz appreciate the value of Mitacs.
SeeO2 Energy, like any startup, did not have enough capital to hire research talent; Mitacs enabled both Paul and Beatriz to earn a monthly salary while building the company and working on their spin-off.
The Mitacs research program enabled both co-founders to continue their research at the University of Calgary as postdoctoral associates while developing their relationship with ATCO, a natural gas and electricity retailer with which they both did their Mitacs internships. As a result, ATCO supported SeeO2 Energy indirectly by sponsoring both Mitacs internships for Paul and Beatriz. Thanks to the relationship built through the Elevate program, ATCO has recently made a private investment in SeeO2 Energy and is currently one of the start-up’s shareholders.
SeeO2 Energy launched in April 2018. In just over a year, the company has grown to three full-time employees, 10 industry advisors and five board members. A successful benchtop prototype is completed, and the company is now securing $1.5 million in seed funding to develop a larger-scale field test unit, with testing scheduled to start in 2020. The first companies to test the technology include a U.S.-based green plastic producer and ATCO Energy. Commercial shipments are expected to start in 2021.
“This technology has the potential to be used worldwide,” says Beatriz, adding that companies from the EU and Asia are already expressing interest.
As SeeO2 Energy continues to develop technology, in April 2019 SeeO2 Energy appointed its first research team member though the Mitacs Accelerate program, effectively using Mitacs to staff the company’s R&D. SeeO2 Energy has also secured federal and provincial funding.
“Mitacs matching up to 50% of the salary has been extremely helpful for us to hire highly-qualified personnel,” says Paul.
“Thanks to Mitacs’s support, we have been able to successfully receive other public grants—both federal and provincial. Mitacs allowed us to leverage our private capital funds. And due to our Mitacs connections, we have had access to university facilities and infrastructure, which is extremely valuable for our technology,” says Beatriz.
For every ton of CO2 removed and re-used, three tons of CO2 emissions are eliminated, Molero explains. “If our commercial-scale units were to be used by our end users, such as green plastics or petrochemicals producers, we would significantly decrease CO2 emissions — equivalent to removing 100 million cars off the roads or 700,000 jet planes out of the skies,” she says.
“We’re trying to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions and eventually reduce them, and at the same time we’re monetizing the process by giving businesses a valuable asset at the end,” says Molero, noting that businesses need incentives to make environmental changes. “We need to have economically viable technologies so that industry will be willing to adopt them.”
Accelerate: Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada for their support of the Accelerate research fellowship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan.
Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca