2023 Energy Seed Grants Provide Launchpad for Local Startups

A 14” x 20” fully tempered Vacuum Insulated Glass with R-value of R15.

A 14” x 20” fully tempered Vacuum Insulated Glass with R-value of R15.

Thanks to Senate Bill 460, passed in a special legislative session in December 2021, the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute (MEI2) is now able to offer $650K in energy seed grant funding, an additional $250K than in years past. Twelve proposals from six different academic institutions across the state were submitted. Many were follow-on phase II proposals from previous years. Of the six awarded, Alchemity, a University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) start-up, NextGlass (also a UMCP startup) and Atlantic Biomass/University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) received phase II awards at various levels.

Alchemity, a startup company created from a 2018 MEI2 Energy Seed Grant, developed a single-step natural gas-to-chemicals (GTChem) membrane reactor and have demonstrated the ability to convert natural gas that would have otherwise been flared or vented (at 80X the greenhouse gas forcing factor of CO2) into valuable chemicals such as ethylene and benzene. Phase II funding will develop a proof-of-concept demonstration that will attract additional industrial investment for scale-up to a pilot test and eventual commercialization.

NextGlass, LLC (also a UMCP startup) and Dr. Ratnesh Tiwari (Mechanical Engineering) will conduct a technology validation for UMD's room temperature sealed vacuum insulated glass (VIG), which can be produced at a cost similar to IGUs. The project will develop an automated sealing process that is repeatable to produce confidence and reduce risk, making it highly appealing for additional private funding for the development of a pilot manufacturing line.

UMES/Atlantic Biomass will be focused on translating Maryland developed enzyme optimization research into a suite of hydrolysis biofuel enzymes and process improvements that will greatly reduce the cost of converting residual hemp biomass into high-value Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) required for international greenhouse gas reductions. Their objectives will be achieved by using phase I results combined with enzyme development resources available in Maryland to solve important remaining challenges to getting a viable commercial 1st Generation system on-line.

Two new phase I awardees include SulAnchor cathodes for solid-state lithium sulfur batteries from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and the development and commercialization of rechargeable Zn-ion batteries from crab shell developed at UMCP and its associated startup WH-Power, Inc.

Dr. Sara Thoi (JHU) will develop solid-state Li-S batteries which are extremely attractive due to their improved safety and higher energy densities. Owing to the high specific capacity and low weight of sulfur, Li-S batteries can have as much as 2x the energy storage density as lithium ion batteries (LIB). Sulfur also costs an order of magnitude less than typical lithium metal oxide used in LIB. The expected end products of this seed grant are optimized SulAnchor materials and cathodes that can be sold to solid-state battery manufacturers and technology licensing products (e.g., cell prototypes, synthetic and fabrication strategies, scaled processes).

The UMCP/WH-Power group will develop a low-cost rechargeable battery for grid and residential energy storage based on (1) electrolyte derived from crab shell containing chitosan and Zn (Chitosan-Zn), (2) low cost zinc metal anode, and (3) low cost manganese dioxide (MnO2) cathode. As energy storage units at grid or residential level, the Crab Battery reduces CO2 emission by matching electricity consumption and production.

Additional follow-on funding was also awarded to Morgan State University and Halo CyTech to continue their work on cyanobacterial biomass energy research while developing a plan to potentially commercialize the product.

To date, 20+ energy innovation companies have been founded and advanced through their association with the MEI2 energy seed grants and/or in partnership with the Maryland Energy Innovation Accelerator (MEIA). 

Published March 16, 2023