Dimensional Energy – a Cornell McGovern Center startup company that can capture industrial carbon dioxide and then convert it by way of sunshine into an environmentally friendly products like aviation fuel – has emerged as one of two finalists in the $20 million Carbon X Prize competition.
The contest’s winner will be announced this summer.
After developing small-scale models on the laboratory bench at the McGovern Center, Dimensional Energy brought their pilot reactor to Gillette, Wyoming, last fall for a long stretch of scaled-up testing. The group successfully demonstrated their technology with a 10-ton per year scale proof-of-concept solar fuels reactor that can turn carbon dioxide into a carbon-neutral fuel.
“We found that our conversion had percentage numbers that were high and successful, validating the whole process for the Carbon X Prize finals,” said Jason Salfi, Dimensional Energy’s cofounder and chief executive officer. “We have validated all the modeling we’d been doing for years, but now at a larger scale. The reaction ran as close to equilibrium conversion as we modeled the entire time – for about 10 weeks – without any degradation in catalytic performance. We got it done.”
In 2018, Dimensional Energy joined the McGovern Center and began pioneering artificial photosynthesis to produce environmentally green polymers and chemicals. Before the gaseous, industrial waste carbon dioxide ends up in the atmosphere, it is captured. After adding hydrogen and sunlight to the carbon dioxide in a reactor, it can emerge as a useful liquid fuel for aviation and surface transportation, or if desired, more durable products like plastic.
The pilot reactor was moved late last year from Wyoming to its new home in Tucson, Arizona – where ample sunshine exists – for the finishing touches in research.
Dimensional Energy started when New York’s entrepreneurial pipeline pieces worked perfectly.
Tobias Hanrath, the Marjorie L. Hart ’50 Professor in Engineering, in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and David Erickson, the S.C. Thomas Sze Director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, had both applied independently for grants from NEXUS-NY – a clean energy business accelerator funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
NEXUS-NY recognized that the two Cornell professors’ ideas were closely related and introduced them. The professors, along with Salfi and entrepreneur Clayton Poppe, who were working for NEXUS-NY as mentors, formed the startup company Dimensional Energy in 2016. All of them worked with NEXUS-NY to develop the current concept.