It’s clear we need a new formula for chemicals production — the processes behind it are still highly reliant on the intense heat generated by fossil fuels. 

But as with other so-called hard-to-abate sectors, such as aviation or maritime shipping, the path to electrification will be far from linear. Getting to a place where chemical manufacturers can rely more heavily on electricity generated by renewable sources will require serious industrial efficiency breakthroughs. Naturally, the world of climate-tech startups is willing to oblige.

One example of the sort of innovations we’ll need comes from Syzygy Plasmonics, a Houston-based firm that recently raised a $23 million Series B funding round led by Horizon Ventures. The firm, which employs about 30 people, previously scored about $12 million in backing, including grants from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

Syzygy is developing a photocatalytic approach that uses light rather than heat to trigger reactions from feedstocks such as methane, carbon dioxide or ammonia. The reactors it is creating build on research born at Rice University in labs managed by Naomi Halas (known for her innovations in nanotechnology) and Peter Nordlander (a physicist and materials scientist). 

According to Syzygy co-founder and CEO Trevor Best, one of the biggest benefits of Syzygy’s technology is that it is modular, allowing the reactors to be constructed from lower-cost materials than is typically possible and also enabling manufacturers to consider more decentralized production models — ones that could more easily run off renewable energy. 

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