Fighting climate change while putting carbon emissions to good use

Unique technology turns captured CO2 gas into high-value chemicals, reducing global emissions to a level equivalent to taking 2,500 cars off the road each year.

Former Mitacs postdoctoral researcher Dr. Ulrich Legrand understands that the world is facing major challenges due to climate change. He also knows that decision-makers are looking for solutions to the global crisis while driving economic growth

“Governments and businesses agree that reducing emissions is the right thing to do to protect the environment, but at the same time, they want to see a financial benefit,” Dr. Legrand says. And he has developed a first-of-its-kind technology that does just that.

Dr. Legrand’s start-up, Electro Carbon, is advancing Canada’s place in the emerging carbontech sector, a market valued at US$6 trillion. But unlike their competitors, Dr. Legrand and his co-founder, Martin Larocque, are looking to do something useful with the carbon after it is successfully removed from the atmosphere.

Dr. Legrand has developed a proprietary CO2 electrolyzer system that uses a catalytic converter and electrochemical cell to separate CO2 and water into usable potassium formate and oxygen. Operating continuously on two megawatts of power, each unit is capable of converting more than 2,500 tons of direct CO2 emissions annually and of creating valuable specialty green chemicals in a cleaner, greener way.

Putting carbon to good use

Potassium formate and its derivative, formic acid, are high-value chemicals, which are used globally in multiple industrial applications, including as de-icer for airport runways, preservative in livestock feed as well as in the leather tanning and rubber industries. Beyond that, Electro Carbon is investigating possible future uses for formic acid, including in the automotive industry, where it is proving to be a safer, more practical fuel cell solution than hydrogen.

As Dr. Legrand explains, the problem is that “currently, Canadian companies that rely on potassium formate are importing it from countries that use traditional production methods, emitting roughly 1.4 tons of harmful carbon dioxide into the air each year. When you take this indirect impact into account, each system we build has the potential to reduce global CO2 emissions by as much as 9,500 tons per year, the equivalent of taking 2,500 cars off the road.”

Partnerships and collaboration will help the start-up scale up

With their proprietary technology in hand, Dr. Legrand and Mr. Larocque are working with partners from Canada’s innovation ecosystem to take their business to the next level.

After receiving proof of concept validation from Canada’s National Centre for Electrochemistry and Environmental Technologies (CNETE), they are aiming to build a prototype that will generate 100 tons of potassium formate per year in 2022. “We anticipate fast growth from there, because once it’s proven that the technology can go from the lab to an industrial system, that’s where the magic happens,” says Mr. Larocque, adding that the company will be seeking investors to help springboard its growth.

The two entrepreneurs hope their company will become a global leader in this growing field — cementing Montréal and Quebec as a hub where innovative, green businesses can grow and thrive.

Dr. Legrand’s groundbreaking technology was recognized by Mitacs earlier this year when he was awarded the 2021 Mitacs Environmental Entrepreneur Award during a virtual ceremony.

“It was a great honour to have Electro Carbon rewarded with [this prize],” he says. “This award helped us to gain visibility in our attempt to fight climate change with innovation. We will gladly collaborate with Mitacs for our next steps of development.”

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities:

Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

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