May 31, 2019

Groundbreaking technology converts waste carbon dioxide into high-value fuels and chemicals

UCalgary researcher receives prestigious award to advance technology
Beatriz Molero, second from left, celebrates with other Mitacs winners in Halifax.

Beatriz Molero, second from left, celebrates with other Mitacs winners in Halifax.

A postdoctoral fellow’s research work to convert greenhouse gas emissions into high-value fuels and chemicals before they are released into the environment has earned national recognition.

The Faculty of Science’s Dr. Beatriz Molero, PhD, and her clean-tech startup were selected to receive a Mitacs Environmental Entrepreneur Award, presented on May 28 at a ceremony in Halifax.

“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,” says Molero. “For every ton of CO2 removed and re-used, three tons of CO2 emissions are eliminated.”

Molero and her supervisor, Dr. Viola Birss, PhD, developed the Intellectual Property (IP) together. Following that, Molero and colleague Dr. Paul Addo, PhD, competed in and were finalists in the GreenSTEM Fellows program, managed by Innovate Calgary, where they received mentorship and IP support to grow their venture. Molero, as chief technology officer, and Addo then founded Calgary-based SeeO2 Energy. Birss continues to serve as a scientific adviser in SeeO2.

Their product is a high-temperature electrolyzer that uses CO2 from an industrial company’s waste stream and converts it into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, oxygen or syngas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide mixture), all of which can be used downstream or sold for profit. The unit requires electricity to run and is being designed to be able to use excess renewable energy from wind and solar energy sources.

“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. “We need to have economically viable technologies so that industry will be willing to adopt them.”

SeeO2 Energy launched in April 2018. In just one year, the company has grown to three full-time employees, 10 industry advisers 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 the first quarter of 2020. The first companies to test the technology include a U.S.-based green plastic producer and ATCO Energy, a natural gas and electricity retailer. Commercial shipments are expected to start in 2021.

“This technology has the potential to be used worldwide,” says Molero, adding that companies from the EU and Asia are already expressing interest. “I come from a scientific and academic background, so this award is validation that in the short time we’ve been at this, we’ve done something right.”

Molero is one of five winners of the Entrepreneur Award, presented by Mitacs, who are being recognized for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians.

Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that partners companies, government and academia to promote Canadian research and training.