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Dr. Pedro Pereira Almao, co-founder of Carbonova, inspects the company's technology with colleagues at their lab in Calgary, on July 22, 2021.Jeff McIntosh/STRJMC

Cleantech startup Carbonova Corp. has completed a $6-million funding round aimed at expanding its capacity to produce high-value carbon nanofibres from waste CO2 and methane at commercial scale.

Calgary-based Carbonova said the financing was led by South Korean conglomerate Kolon Industries, which is interested in its technology to produce the unusually strong and lightweight material. It said Kolon sees the potential for its use in batteries, plastics and other products within Asia.

NGIF Capital, a venture capital fund focused on technology to improve the environmental performance of the gas and hydrogen industries, also participated in the funding round.

Five-year-old Carbonova, which has 15 full-time staff, is among a new breed of technology developers seeking new uses for greenhouse gases emitted from oil and gas production and other industrial processes. It said it will use the proceeds from the financing for a new commercial demonstration plant it is designing at its northeast Calgary lab. So far, it has operated a pilot plant.

The new unit will produce hundreds of kilograms of nanofibres a day, enough to contribute to tonnes of end products strengthened by the high-tech ingredient, said Mina Zarabian, Carbonova’s chief executive officer.

“It’s a scale-up,” Ms. Zarabian said in an interview. “In our business model, even though it’s a demonstration unit, it is generating profit, and it’s serving customers with product. That’s not the case with a lot of CO2 utilization companies if they are producing fuels or other minerals for cement applications. They have to be very large scale.”

The company’s last fundraising round in February, 2023, garnered $2.5-million from two federal agencies, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Carbon nanofibre is prized for strength and versatility. To the naked eye the fibres look like fine powder, but under an electron microscope resemble ramen noodles. It is 40 times stronger than steel and a quarter of its weight, and can be used in paints, lubricants, electronic components, sporting goods and metal alloys. It is also more electrically conductive than copper.

Carbonova’s clients have tested the product in plastics used for plastics in car interiors, in batteries and fuel cells as well as in concrete, for which it reduces the cement used and can improve its durability by making it impermeable to water, she said.

Ms. Zarabian and the company’s chief technology officer, Pedro Pereira Almao, developed the technology at the University of Calgary. The company produces the fibres from carbon dioxide and the more potent greenhouse gas methane using two catalysts to trigger chemical reactions.

To date, carbon nanofibres and nanotubes have been costly to produce but the global market is growing by double digits annually, driven largely by demand from battery makers, she said. Major producers, including Korea’s LG Chem Ltd., are vastly expanding their manufacturing capacity.

This is fuelling new interest among venture capital funds, Ms. Zarabian said.

“Before they said they were waiting to see what happens with carbon utilization. Everybody was super interested in carbon capture, but now that carbon capture is becoming more mature, people are able to see the next step in the value chain,” she said.

That is expected to continue, especially with the United States offering incentives under President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, including tax credits for conversion of captured emissions into useful products, she said.

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