UP Catalyst logo

One of the reasons for the slow adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is cost. But the most common reason people give for not buying EVs is the concern about the driving range and the fear that the battery will run out of charge. With all the recent advances, battery technology hasn’t changed that much in over three decades.

The EV car market is still dominated by conventional lithium-ion batteries. But that’s beginning to change. Tesla is working on a new technology with a new battery cell with 500% more power. General Motors is also about to release its new EVs based on its Ultium battery.

However, big auto giants are not alone in leading this change. There are dozen innovative tech startups working to improve battery range. One of these startups is UP Catalyst, an Estonia-based company working to revolutionize the electric car battery industry and provide sustainable carbon materials and graphite out of CO2 for the green energy storage industry. The startup has since sparked the interest of industry-specific investors.

Today, UP Catalyst announced it has successfully closed a €500k pre-seed round. The investment came in addition to the €1.59M grant funding secured earlier this year, which brings the total investment to €2.09M ($2.27 million).

The pre-seed round was led by Sunly, a reputable developer of wind and solar parks in the Baltics and Poland, and joined by Scottish Baltic Invest, Little Green Fund, and UniTartu Ventures. UP Catalyst will use the fresh funding to accelerate our production to provide sustainable carbon materials out of CO2 to EV battery manufacturers including Tesla, Northvolt, CATL, and many others.

Although founded in 2019, the scientific research and development of UP Catalyst go back to the year 2016, when relevant technologies to produce carbon nanomaterials and graphite sustainably were studied by the founders. Most of the carbon materials on the market are produced by employing expensive and environmentally harmful methods. This has a major negative impact on the environment as they are either mined or synthesized from energy-dense fossil resources.

The team of UP Catalyst

UP Catalyst uses CO2-rich flue gases from heavy industry emitters as a feedstock for producing sustainable carbon nanomaterials and graphite, a critical raw material both in the EU and the US. These materials can be used in electric car batteries increasing the energy and power density, speeding up the charge rate and improving the lifetime significantly.

“We in Sunly saw a match between great technology & business-led researchers in UP Catalyst. Turning CO2 into sustainable materials that can be used in energy storage has the potential to revolutionize the whole industry”, says Rasmus Udde, the Innovation Lead at Sunly.

Sunly was joined by Scottish Baltic Invest, an investment company linked to Interconnect Product Assembly (IPA), which specializes in the production of electro-mechanical solutions; and Little Green Fund which focuses on investments in cleantech innovation. The group is joined by a non-financial investor UniTartu Ventures, an investment company of the University of Tartu, which transfers the IP rights for equity.

The Estonian-based deep tech startup is in the process of developing the first scalable technology in the world to produce sustainable carbon materials from CO2 at industry sites. UP Catalyst CEO Gary Urb says: “The funding will help us to scale up the technology by building the first industrial-scale prototype synthesis unit, thus providing the material to customers in much larger volumes as the demand is already exceeding supply.”

The investment will be a valuable addition to the €1.59M grant funding that the company received from EIT Raw Materials earlier this year. “The support from the investors will also enable UP Catalyst to further expand its R&D activities, grow the team, and focus on European battery manufacturers, which aim to make a shift towards sustainable production,” Urb adds.

A EIT RawMaterials-supported project consortium specialising in energy storage development has launched a two-year pilot program to design and build a scalable shipping container synthesis reactor that is capable of transforming CO2 emissions into graphite, a mineral now classified by the EU as a critical raw material, and various carbon nanomaterials. The innovative project called CO2Carbon secured an investment in the amount of €1.59 million and is led by Estonian technology start-up UP Catalyst.

 

Until now, 500 thousand tons of graphite has been imported by the EU to fulfil the ever-growing need for energy storage solutions and electric vehicle batteries. This technology is evidence of how Europe is applying innovative technologies to reduce Europe’s dependencies on raw materials from abroad, contributing to the EU’s needs to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets by 2030.

 

The goal of the consortium, consisting of world-renowned research institutes and leading industry partners, is to revolutionise shipping containers as they are one of the most scalable technology units and can be easily transported globally. The benefit is two-fold, the CO2 will be captured and turned into extremely valuable products. Currently, these materials are produced from fossil fuels with an enormous environmental footprint and impact. This technology contributes directly to the circular economy as it closes economic loops within the raw material industry.

 

The outcome of this proposal would be an automated pilot shipping container that absorbs 10 tons of CO2and produces 2 700 kg of sustainable carbon materials per year, with a potential revenue of 2.7 million EUR per year. A pilot project such as this will accelerate the progress towards even larger scale CO2 splitting operations by creating knowledge and understanding of the processes taking place when splitting CO2electrochemically at such a large scale.

 

UP Catalyst solution for producing sustainable graphite

 

Dr Olli Salmi, Innovation Hub Director Baltic Sea at EIT RawMaterials, says: “The CO2Carbon is a perfect example of the different support instruments in EIT RawMaterials combined towards a common goal. The project coordinator, UP Catalyst, has won rewards in the EIT Jumpstarter idea competition, grown in the RawMaterials Accelerator, and is now ready to upscale its technology together with industry and university partners. The idea of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into EV battery chemicals will directly contribute to the EU goals in climate neutrality and circular economy.”

 

The consortium was called upon by UP Catalyst in January 2021, which is also serving as the technology owner and project leader. Additionally, the project was joined by Riga Technical University (RTU) carrying out the industrial design of the synthesis reactor; Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) performing the industrial pilot construction, certification and life-cycle assessment analysis; University of Bologna (UNIBO) characterising and testing the produced sustainable carbon materials for the use in electrodes for Li-ion batteries; Univercell Holding GmbH producing electrodes and cells based on Li-ion technology and Bettery Srl whose mission is developing and bringing next-generation sustainable semi-solid state batteries to the market.

 

The revolutionary project titled CO2Carbon will scale up technology that turns CO2 from heavy industry emitters into valuable carbon nanomaterials and graphite to produce greener batteries.

Dr Gary Urb, CEO of UP Catalyst, stated: “The global cumulative energy storage market is set to grow 20 times by 2030, and we will be needing over 50 times more batteries by the same year.”

 

Due to stringent EU regulations on the one hand and increasing global concern for the environment on the other forces everyone to look for more sustainable solutions to meet the increasing demand for energy storage. Within the CO2Carbon project, a scalable shipping container synthesis pilot reactor will be designed and built. This unit will increase the sustainable carbon nanomaterial production capacity to ton-scale per year and is further easily scalable to larger capacities to provide nanocarbons that will be manufactured into sustainable batteries.

 

The project relies on UP Catalyst’s innovative technology of molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET), which makes it possible to start producing carbon materials close to industry sites and energy plants that emit enormous amounts of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, the developed technology also enables battery materials to be produced from biogenic CO2, which will improve the environmental performance of the battery value chain.

 

All the developments and milestones of the project can be found on the website www.co2carbon.eu from June 2022.