Technology and innovation are in Knoxville’s DNA; these businesses are keeping that alive

From capturing carbon emissions to getting away from your phone, here’s a look at some innovative tech companies in Knoxville.

Carbon is an essential material needed to make batteries for items we use every day, like cars and phones. 

But while working on her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University, SkyNano CEO and co-founder Anna Douglas said she and her team found there wasn’t a sustainable way to obtain it. And the carbon burden from emissions could only be offset if the battery could live a “very, very long time.”

“I felt like this was something that wasn’t really being highlighted enough and not a lot of consumers were really aware of this component of a lot of clean energy technologies,” Douglas said. “I started looking at other ways to make materials that go into batteries.”

After that, SkyNano was born and incubated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as part of the Department of Energy Funded Innovation Crossroad program. 

The company chemically captures carbon dioxide from the air using metal oxide, which has a high uptake and affinity for the gas, forming carbonate. That is then electrochemically decomposed, forming solid carbon. Oxygen and metal oxide are also byproducts, which are used to capture more carbon. 

The solid carbon that’s produced is then sold to battery companies, or really anybody who needs it. 

“Carbon has such a range of value, everything from the really cheap carbon that’s in a Brita filter, all the way to diamond,” Douglas said. “We said we really need to be able to home in on forming very specific precise carbon structures in order to make sure that they have a value in the marketplace.”

Right now, SkyNano is pulling carbon dioxide from its lab in the UT Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing, but also has a partnership with TVA to capture the gas out of their flue gas stream.

But while the operation is small and the company continues to scale up, Douglas said it has the potential to offset a gigaton of emissions between capturing carbon and offsetting additional manufacturing emissions.