Separation and capture of CO₂ from industry or ambient air for storage, utilization, and conversion.
Separation and capture of CO₂ from industry or ambient air for storage, utilization, and conversion.
Data last updated on August 14, 2018
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MOFs promising performance in labs is unlikely to make a commercial impact for batteries: Years ago, when carbon nanotubes (CNTs) were first discovered, they were lauded for their high tensile strength and low electrical resistance, with obvious, albeit ambitious applications in structural cables, electrical wires, and integrated circuits. However, these expectations never came to fruition, as we simply didn’t have the capability to manufacture them consistently, accurately, or in large enough quantities to make them cost-effective. Today, CNTs have been put to some use, but mostly by being mixed in with more common materials for marginal gains.A new material, metal organic frameworks (MOFs), have appeared as the next CNTs: MOFs are a type of material with cage-like lattices that can contain other guest molecules. Although MOFs have not hit the same level of hype compared to CNTs, they have extraordinary material properties that garner interest in the scientific field: one gram of certain types of MOFs has a surface area equal that of a football field. This makes them attractive for areas that need high surface area, including carbon capture, gas storage, catalyst support, and even supercapacitors. Their ability to store gas has allowed one company to commercialize the material, but only in the very niche area of fruit preservation. MOFs’ lattices also make it attractive for battery anodes, since they could potentially hold far more lithium ions than normal graphite anodes. Research interest in MOFs for batteries is strong, as a recent review paper details. Some of the experiments deliver remarkable results (including one ZnO/ZnFe2O4/C (ZZFC) MOF cathode in an Li-O2 battery - a technology which itself is 20 years to relevancy - delivered a first discharge capacity exceeding 11,000 mAh/g). Unfortunately, it seems the materials research community has no clear direction on a specific chemistry or application for MOFs, and unlike CNTs, they have a large amount of material combinations available which complicates attempts at commercialization. Additionally, many of these complex combinations are difficult to manufacture.While some researchers are branching out, using more complex molecular combinations for their MOFs, others are simplifying by using MOF-like structures made entirely out of a single material, called clathrates. Silicon-based clathrates have been particularly attractive for battery scientists (overviewed in this paper) since their latticed cage structure made specifically for lithium molecules could theoretically employ silicon’s specific capacity of 4,200 mAh/g without the degradation or size change that comes from repeated cycling. Unfortunately, labs have been unable to consistently reproduce this; in some experiments, repeated insertion and removal of lithium ions caused degradation to the structure, dramatically reducing capacity over use. Additionally, even in simulations with ideal conditions, the maximum theoretical specific capacity of pure silicon clathrates was calculated to be 123 mAh/g - three times lower than graphite.MOFs and clathrates seem to be following the same story we’ve seen in the past with CNTs. However, while CNTs have mainly a manufacturing problem, MOFs have too many material combination possibilities and clathrates are too unstable. It looks like the development of MOFs are where carbon nanotubes (CNTs) were 10 years ago. The Lux Tech Signal shows that CNT commercialization required a decade of high level research activity, and MOFs are only now reaching this level.There may be a day when we build our elevator cables out of CNTs and MOFs provide untold battery life and performance, but the research and manufacturing field for these materials will have to mature considerably before that happens. But there is hope: while not the wonder material it was claimed to be, one of the main applications of CNTs today is in batteries. Clients looking for long-term breakthroughs in materials for energy storage are encouraged to consider MOFs as one potential research path, but given commercialization is likely more than a decade away, focus on partnerships with universities and research consortiums. For more near-term opportunities for battery materials, clients should consider solid electrolytes, lower-cost cathodes which reduce or eliminate cobalt content, or conductive additives which allow for faster charging.
From fuel to food: Recent updates on algae-based functional ingredients : Algae-derived high-value ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids are used for various functional food and nutraceutical applications. Currently, an increasing number of companies are vying for commercial success in this space. Algae developers that initially targeted biofuels, but later pivoted to other application areas, including nutraceuticals, are jumping on the bandwagon. On the upside, technology developments made by these algae biofuel companies can be easily applied for other high-value ingredient production. This insight will focus on some of the recent updates related to algae-based functional ingredients and assess this landscape using our Lux Innovation Grid. Below are recent updates from three companies that shifted focus from biofuel to applications targeting the functional food market.Solix Algredients merges with ingredient provider BGG Formerly known as Solix BioSystems, the company focused on developing algae harvesting and processing technologies, the core of which is a floating bag photobioreactor (PBR). It primarily targeted biofuel applications, but in 2015, the company rebranded itself as an algae-based ingredient provider. In May 2018, Solix merged with another ingredient company, BGG, and the newly formed company will focus on natural plant-based as well as algae ingredients for the functional foods and nutraceuticals market.Algenol continues to focus on functional food ingredient marketWhen Lux last interviewed Algenol in 2015, the company was given a Lux Take of "strong caution." Given its primary focus on ethanol fuels as well as carbon capture, we assessed that the company's future in biofuel is uncertain. Since then, the company indeed pivoted to the nutraceutical and functional food market after unsuccessful return on investment from the biofuel focus. Its current product portfolio includes algae-derived natural colorants, supplements, biostimulants, and ingredients for food and personal care applications. The company is still strengthening its IP portfolio, with its latest patent application covering cyanobacterial strains capable of utilizing phosphite. Although we haven't interviewed Algenol recently, this market change is likely to open up more opportunities for the company.Algae.Tec diversifies into nutraceuticals and medicinal cannabisAustralian company Algae.Tec develops technology for integrated algae growth, cultivation, and harvest with prior application areas including biofuel, jet fuel, food, and feed. In 2017, the company confirmed that it ended its focus on biofuels and shifted to algae- and plant-derived nutraceuticals. Algae.Tec announced a recent partnership with Radient Technologies to employ the latter's microwave-assisted processing (MAP) technology for the extraction of algal ingredients. Just recently, it ventured into the medicinal cannabis market.Many undifferentiated players in a crowded spaceWhile more and more algae developers are entering the nutraceuticals space, the success rate of these players, including those that pivoted form biofuels to food, is highly questionable. The Lux Innovation Grid (LIG) of algae developers, specifically targeting the nutraceuticals and functional ingredients market (algal oils and carotenoids), shows that most of these developers fall under the "undifferentiated" category. Nevertheless, a few developers stand out: Companies like Martek Biosciences and AstaReal had a different market focus from the beginning, helping them establish a foothold in the nutraceuticals market.Martek Biosciences (acquired by DSM in 2011) in particular had a competitive edge due to its technology differentiation and early focus targeting the food and agriculture industries. Martek's fermentation methods to produce algae-derived ingredients is currently leveraged by DSM. In fact, DSM recently announced a joint venture with Evonik, called Veramaris, for fermentation-based production of omega fatty acids using algae strain Schizochytrium, focusing on animal nutrition. The construction of the new production facility is currently underway in Nebraska, and the algal oil products are expected to hit the market in 2019.As depicted in the LIG, a host of players in the algae space have high-potential technologies but average business strategies. A couple of seemingly promising players, such as Fermentalg and Qualitas Health, are still grappling to find commercial success. Lux recently interviewed Fermentalg, which focuses on DHA-rich algal oil production. The company switched from a mixotrophic to a heterotrophic production method and made changes to the management team and its commercialization strategy to expedite market entry. Despite these drastic changes, the commercial success of Fermentalg is still questionable. Qualitas Health, on the other hand focuses on EPA-rich algal oil and faces the challenge of obtaining stable production levels of EPA from Nannochloropsis oculata strains due to difficulties in controlling the environmental conditions of a wide-area pond for consistent algae growth and yield performance.Other high-potential companies that are currently lacking strong partnerships may benefit from the right partnership opportunities. However, clients interested in the algae-derived functional ingredients and nutraceuticals space should take a cautious approach around partnership or investment opportunities. From a functional food ingredients point of view, partnering with companies that have environmentally friendly production methods is recommended – especially companies that promote highly controllable, consumer-friendly production processes like tubular photobioreactor cultivation and electrocoagulation harvesting.
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