Maria Montero

Meet the Texas startup that wants to decarbonize the industry …

Solugen, a company that has established itself with a goal no less lofty than decarbonizing a large portion of the petrochemical industry, may be the first legitimate multi-million dollar company to start in a methamphetamine lab.

When company co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt began looking for a laboratory to test their process for enzyme detection.When making hydrogen peroxide, they only had a small $ 10,000 grant from MIT, which was supposed to pay their wages and cover rent and lab equipment.

Chakrabarti, who now jokingly calls himself. “The Heisenberg of Hydrogen Peroxide” says the lab spaces they saw at the beginning were too expensive, so through a friend of a friend, he and Hunt searched for a leasing lab space at an airport facility. from Houston for $ 150 per month.

Hunt and Chakrabarti refined their manufacturing process between burners and round-bottom flasks, using a fermentation based on Solugen’s proprietary enzyme made from genetically engineered yeast cells to produce hydrogen peroxide.

“In 2016 I went to visit Solugen’s headquarters in Houston, They were subletting a small part of a larger lab and it was one of the laziest labs I had ever seen, but the founders of Solugen liked it because the rent was low, “recalls Solugen seed investor Seth Bannon, a partner. Investment Firm Founder Fifty Years “Sean and Gaurab were incredibly impressive. They had their prototype reactor working and they were already selling 100% of its capacity, so we invested.”

Creating a process that can produce thousands of tons of chemicals, without relying on oil, would be a very important step in the fight against global climate change. And Solugen says it has done exactly that, while getting the chemical industry to subsidize its development.

The chemical industry is responsible for 10% of global energy consumption and 30% of industrial energy demand, while also contributing 20% ‚Äč‚Äčof all industrial greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Global Efficiency Intelligence website. .

As the world begins to grapple with the effects of global climate change, reducing emissions from industry will be critically important to ensure that human activity does not change irrevocably and catastrophically.

As columnist Ramez Naam wrote on TechCrunch:

Our harder The climate problems, which are large and lack obvious solutions, are agriculture (and deforestation, its main side effect) and industry. Together these are 45% of global carbon emissions. And the solutions are rare.

Agriculture and land use account for 24% of all human emissions. That’s about as much as electricity, and twice as much as all the world’s passenger cars combined.

Industry – steel, cement, and manufacturing – accounts for 21% of human emissions – one and a half times more than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes combined.

Image courtesy of Global Efficiency Intelligence.

Greenhouse gas emissions are just one of the dangers associated with the petrochemical industry’s approach to production. The processes by which chemicals are made are also incredibly volatile, and the work is dangerous for both employees and the communities in which these plants operate.

Last week, a chemical plant explosion led to one of the worst fires in the city’s history. Firefighters in the city spent six days trying to contain a chemical fire that has burned 11 storage tanks run by the Intercontinental Terminals Company.

“They are moving exposed chemicals into the environment, and those chemicals are not designed to be transported that way,” said Francisco Sanchez, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator. The Houston Chronicle.

Man in protective workwear with caution tape (Courtesy of Getty Images)