Spark Innovation Center Graduate, SkyNano LLC, secures a nearly $3.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

June 15 proved to be a good day for one of the region’s rapidly-growing start-ups and one of its research enterprises.

SkyNano LLC, a member of the inaugural cohort of the “Innovation Crossroads” program and a graduate of the Spark Innovation Center, has just secured a nearly $3.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), while Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was awarded $5 million to lead a team to develop an industrial heat pump system capable of 200 Centigrade sink temperatures.

According to the June 15 announcement, SkyNano “will demonstrate a carbon utilization process to create solid carbon products that, when blended into concrete, can increase durability and lower the amount of portland cement, and thereby the energy and emissions required to create concrete.”

The project is titled “Tailored Ultra-Low-Carbon Concrete Enabled by Nanocarbon Additives Produced from Recycled Kiln CO2.” It was one of 40 projects that received a combined $135 million to reduce carbon pollution from the industrial sector and move the nation toward a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 by advancing key transformational and innovative technologies.

There were several subcategories of awardees, and SkyNano was one of five in the group that was focused on decarbonizing cement and concrete. In its news release, DOE noted that “CO2 emissions (in the U.S. cement industry) are split between process-related emissions from calcination, accounting for about 58 percent of the total, and energy-related CO2 emissions, responsible for the remainder. Projects selected under this topic will focus on next-generation cement formulations and process routes and carbon capture and utilization technologies to address both sources of CO2 emissions.”

Co-founded by Anna Douglas and Cary Pint, SkyNano has a project goal of achieving a CO2 uptake of 95 percent from kiln-derived CO2 while demonstrating a 50 percent increase in concrete durability with the addition of these solid carbon product modifiers. This route aims to lower the cost of producing solid carbon products such as multiwalled carbon nanotubes and Carbon Zoo from cement plant flue gas at greater than 80 percent CO2 allowing them to be used beyond just the buildings sector.

Partners in the project funded at $3,450,295 include the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK); Missouri University of Science and Technology; Ash Grove Cement Company; and Tennessee Valley Authority.

“SkyNano is grateful for the continued support from DOE towards our scaling efforts,” Douglas said via email when we congratulated her on the news. “This project will enable SkyNano to build a scaled-up mobile unit to decarbonize cement kiln emissions continuously, while simultaneously improving the performance of cementitious products to enable longer-lasting and lower-emissions concrete.”

She added, “SkyNano is excited to continue growing right here in Knoxville. One of our partners on this effort is based here as well at UTK! We’ve been hiring excellent talent from the engineering school, and are eager to keep growing surrounded by the support of this entrepreneurial ecosystem and broader community.”

It was less than six months ago that we posted this article that spotlighted how the start-up had raised about $10 million in non-diluted grant funding.

The ORNL project is titled “Ultra-High Temperature Cascade Industrial Heat Pump for Waste Heat Recovery.” According to the DOE news release, the work will address “multiple systems-level design considerations for raising sink temperatures of industrial heat pumps while maintaining acceptable efficiencies, including waste heat recovery technology. Developing heat pumps with high sink temperatures allows for the electrification of high-heat industrial processes.”

ORNL’s partners include Emerson Climate, Trane Technologies, Chemours, Energy Recover, Inc., Southern Company, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The team will demonstrate a cascading heat pump system with low global warming potential refrigerants operating in transcritical cycles, increased efficiency using expansion work recovery devices, and advanced artificial intelligence process control of the integrated system.

“By the end of the project, the team will test a 20-kW prototype aiming for 62.3 percent Carnot coefficient of performance,” the news release indicated