Liquid Light: Startup creates industrial chemicals from waste

Nov. 21, 2013

As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, Liquid Light Inc., a startup of 26 people located in Monmouth Junction, N.J., sees opportunity in carbon dioxide emissions.

The company was founded in 2009 to develop technology to produce industrial chemicals and fuels from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, a low-cost and abundant carbon source. Emitted from industrial plants and captured at the point of emission, carbon dioxide is the starting point for Liquid Light’s novel technology, which uses electrocatalysts to convert carbon dioxide into industrial chemicals such as glycols, alcohols and carboxylic acids.

Liquid Light’s technology is based on innovations developed by Andrew Bocarsly, a professor of chemistry, and his team of researchers. Bocarsly and a graduate student began studying methods for converting carbon dioxide to methanol in the early 1990s. The initial studies, which were funded by the National Science Foundation, involved an electrode and an inexpensive catalyst to drive the reaction. The project picked up speed in the mid-2000s when graduate student Emily Cole revived the project and began to explore ways to optimize the reaction with additional support from the National Science Foundation as well as the Department of Energy and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The team discovered their technology could produce compounds containing carbon-carbon bonds, allowing for a range of commercially valuable products to be produced.

Liquid Light’s CEO is Kyle Teamey, an engineer and entrepreneur who approached Bocarsly in the mid-2000s to discuss commercial applications for the technology. With Bocarsly, Cole —who received her Ph.D. in 2009 — and scientist Narayanappa Sivasankar, Teamey formed Liquid Light. “We continue to collaborate with Princeton on ways to create new products at higher yields,” Teamey said. Liquid Light’s backers include VantagePoint Capital Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, Osage University Partners and BP Ventures.