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Startup Converts Carbon Dioxide into Jet Fuel with Sunlight

Dimensional Energy Team

Startup Converts Carbon Dioxide into Jet Fuel with Sunlight

This fall, Dimensional Energy set up camp in Gillette, Wyoming to further their progress in the Carbon XPrize, a five-year competition that provides a financial incentive—$20 million in prize money—to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) and convert it into innovative products and services, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. The Ithaca-based Dimensional Energy team drove nearly 2,000 miles to the Wyoming testing site with a goal: Harness sunlight to transform as much CO2 as possible into jet fuel.

Simple, right? The Carbon XPrize launched in 2016 with 38 competing teams. After two years of development and testing, ten of those teams—including Dimensional Energy—were chosen as finalists. These remaining teams are focused on utilizing the record-breaking levels of CO2—the driving force behind climate change—and converting this surplus into everyday items in our economy. The winning team will be determined by the total value in converted CO2, which will be measured by how much CO2 is converted, and the net value of what it has been transformed into.

While working in the clean energy space in New York State, Jason Salfi was introduced to two Cornell University researchers, who were working separately on converting CO2 into energy. Shortly after co-founding the in company in 2016 the team became aware of the Carbon Xprize. Dimensional Energy’s technology captures CO2 and breaks down its molecular structures using concentrated sunlight and catalysts in the company’s “HI-Light Reactor.” The reactor’s outputs are building blocks for fuel and other industrial materials.

“It’s a huge challenge to use carbon dioxide in a positive balance, especially at the early stage that all of the technologies are at. Our overall grand challenge is to be carbon neutral, or better yet, something that has a net drawdown effect on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And all the different companies in Carbon XPrize finals are working towards the same goal,” said Salfi, CEO and co-founder.

To determine which company has most effectively reached this goal, a third party will be analyzing and verifying the submitted data, which will then be reviewed by the Carbon XPrize judges on December 7, 2020. Regardless of the winner, Dimensional Energy plans to continue refining their technology and to obtain International Organization for Standards certification, so the jet fuel can be used in airplanes, and to continue building relationships with investors and developing their network, so the technology can be fully commercialized. According to Salfi, the project is progressing extremely well with the technology outperforming its previous tests.

Some of their growth and success, Salfi said, can be attributed to the startup being a Rev member and a part of the region’s clean energy ecosystem: “Rev was really our first office. Back in 2018, we had not set up our lab at the McGovern Center yet. Everybody was working together, and it felt like home right away.”

He also credits the importance of clean energy competitions like 76West, funded by NYSERDA and administered by the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. “What Brian Bauer [Competitions Director, Center for Regional Economic Advancement; Entrepreneur in Residence, Rev] and Rena Scroggins [76West Competitions Manager, Center for Regional Economic Advancement] bring to the clean energy community through 76West is a huge asset to the region, but also to the world. That’s a world-class economic development platform that they run. It’s just a cool hub to be based, and to be affiliated with,” expressed Salfi.

To keep tabs on Dimensional Energy’s progress in the Carbon XPrize competition, check out the startup’s blog.