Liquid Light raises $15M and a lot of eyebrows as it advances towards making $$ out of waste CO2.

September 11, 2014 |

liquid-light-1-smUsed to put the “renewable” in Coca-Cola’s wildly successful Plant Bottle? That’s ethylene glycol.

But there’s a better, cheaper way to make it , says Liquid Light – which now has a hatful of investors jumping on the bandwagon.

Here are some things you could do that will never happen.

You could gasify $100 bills and vent them into the atmosphere. Or you could melt gold and spray it into a landfill.

It will never happen because there’s value in the material. Gold and $100 bills are never vented, never wasted. They never become garbage. Even when they are lost, we send out rescue teams to find them.

And that’s the problem with the planet today, to put it simply as possible. There are chemical compounds being vented and landfilled because there is no economic value in them — or, rather, that the economic cost of venting or landfilling is less than the economic value in using them.

That’s climate change in a nutshell, and that’s pollution in a nutshell too. For which there is the complex, fractious, painful remedy via government mandates, controls, incentives, taxes and subsidies.

Or, the simpler remedy, which is to find higher value in the materials.

In the case of CO2, the venting is so massive that there is the problem of finding uses at sufficient scale that ends or mitigates the venting. You can’t solve the CO2 problem by making more carbonated soft drinks.

Draw curtain. Cue talent. Enter Liquid Light.

This week, the company announced that it has closed a $15 million Series B financing. New investors include Sustainable Conversion Ventures, which focuses on renewable fuels and chemicals investments. Existing investors VantagePoint Capital Partners, BP Ventures, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, and Osage University Partners also participated in this round. The financing was completed at a significant increase in company valuation.


The new financing will be used to complete process development at pilot scale, providing the information needed for further scale up to a tons-per-day plant. The scale-up work is also aimed at validating the quality of the chemicals produced by the process, to confirm their suitability for use in key applications such as the PET used to make plastic soda bottles.


Their first target molecule? Consider monoethylene glycol (MEG), a $1200 per ton product with a $27B market, that is generally made from one of three ways in the Old Economy.

1. Out of ethane, costing $360 per ton.
2. From ethylene, costing $510 per ton.
3. From corn-based ethylene, costing $615 per ton.

So, here’s the CO2-based alternative in the Advanced Bioeconomy. You can make it from roughly $80 per ton CO2, if you have the technology (based on converting 1.58 tons of CO2 at $50 per ton, to a ton of MEG).

What’s not to like about that?

Draw curtain. Cue talent. Enter Liquid Light’s technology.

So, here’s the process, simplified. Start with CO2, add an electrocatalytic process, add hydrogen — presto, oxalic acid. Add more hydrogen via hydrogenation, get MEG (or a variety of other products like glycolic acid, glyoxylic acid, acetic acid or even ethanol).

Now, there’s our friend hydrogen, where’s that coming from?

“There are three ways to get it,” says Teamey, “one which we have unique to Liquid Light. The two most obvious are to use steam reforming or water electrolysis. The less obvious is to strip hydrogen from something else and make two products simultaneously.”

Un, explain that again.

“For example, our technology can be used to remove hydrogen from propane, thereby converting it to propylene, and then use the hydrogen for CO2 conversion.”


How much hydrogen do you need? “Can’t get into two many specifics about product cost, but if you look at the mass of hydrogen you would need .16 tons of hydrogen to make a ton of ethylene glycol.”

Source of the CO2.


One of the more interesting ideas that Liquid Light is proceeding from is to bolt-on to an existing ethanol plant. First of all, one-third of the corn biomass, after fermentation, is vented in the form of CO2, Second, it’s a very pure stream, unlike flue gas. Could be a substantial add-on to an ethanol plant’s economics, and would dramatically change the carbon footprint or, say, ethanol.

According to Liquid Light, an 82.5 million gallon per year ethanol plant releases 278,800 tons of high-value CO2.

A bolt-on plant using the Liquid Light process would have a capacity of 175 kilotons per year, with a capex of $280 million, and annual opex of $77 million, generating $200 million in annual revenue with a 15 year NPV of $200 million.


Now, there’s technology risk in there. But less policy risk than a lot of technologies out there. And the feedstock risk is de minimis.

Another interesting idea. Liquid Light explores the idea that one of the sustainable ingredients in today’s Plant Bottle — which is MEG, can be made more simply in a sustainable way via the Liquid Light process. As an alternative to making ethanol, dehydrating into ethylene, and then oxidizing and hydrating into MEG.

Lot of value in all those plastic bottles — and ready customers for biobased MEG in companies like Coca-Cola.

Where is Liquid Light in its process. It has moved from bench scale batch reactors, in a 2000X scale-up to flow reactors making 5-6 KG of product per day. Next step is a 5-15X scale-up to a 50kg per day flow reactor.


The pursuit of which is the subject of the financing announced this morning.

Learning from the past

We’ve seen delays in march to scale, and some outright technology failures, some prominent.

How does an up-and coming technology avoid the problems seen elsewhere?

“One thing you do is learn from others. There are a lot of good examples of things done well some done not so well. We can learn from all of those. One other thing, though. It’s pretty interesting when you look back on the startups that do well — some do not always have the best technology, or the best business plan. But they nearly always have the best team. If we’re cognizant of what other people have done and not too arrogant about ourselves and how “this time its’ different,” we can pay attention to what has worked and develop a team to take advantage of that.”

Longer term

What molecules are in Liquid Light’s future? “A second molecule? We talk about it at the board level; we talk about it a lot, and
we have carefully monitored all along how our first molecule is coming along,” Teamey said. “There will come a time when our R&D team is mostly building something larger with the first molecule, and that’s when they can give time to the second one. The timing? Not carved in stone.

Our short-term goal is to bring products to market, give customers what they need, and generate revenue. In the long-run, because there are so many different products – we definitely want to be in a positon where our customers could have ‘this chemical co-produced with that chemical’ — and that’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Digest’s Take.

In our Bioenergy Project of the Future series which ran three years ago now, step one was to “buy an ethanol plant” — and a future step was to monetize the CO2. There are algae-based applications there, that can make other products through biological process.

But there’s this less other-worldly, electrocatalytic technology that can make MEG and other C2 products far more cost-effectively than making them from petroleum-based ethylene.

Given that ethylene is the world’s most-important petroleum-based chemical, by market value, that’s pretty significant.

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