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“We turn a pollutant into a raw material”

Intelligent climate protection: Why materials scientist Anh Tran Ly wants to extract formic acid from CO2.

The splitting of CO2 into oxygen and formic acid is a well-known process. What is new about your team’s electrochemical cell, Ms. Tran Ly?

I can’t reveal too much, we are preparing our patent specification these days. However I can say that we have developed a very stable catalyst based on a non-toxic and naturally occurring chemical. Moreover, the electrolyte for our cell can be obtained directly from seawater.

CO2 is harmful to the climate as a trace gas in the atmosphere. How do you feed it into your chemical process?

We feed the highly concentrated CO2 output from power plants, cement, and chemical factories directly into our machine. With the help of renewable electricity, the CO2 is converted into formic acid.

Your business model is two folded. Which ones?

I’ll explain using the example of the chemical industry, our first target market: on the one hand, we relieve it of CO2 emissions and, on the other, supply it with a sought-after material. Formic acid is an antibacterial animal food additive and is used, among other things, in the textile and leather industries for pickling and impregnation.

At the moment, you are still working as a doctoral student at EMPA. What are the next steps?

Now we must do our homework first: In addition to patenting, the main task is to further develop the laboratory device we now have into a module that also functions on an industrial scale.

Plant construction is an expensive business. How do you finance your plans?

We need seed financing in the amount of one million francs. There is interest from industrial partners and investors.

Anh Tran Ly attended the Innosuisse Business Concept course in autumn 2021