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Syzygy raises $76M to make chemicals from light

Illustration of a pipette and a droplet that is shining like the sun.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Lights, action, chemicals: The Houston-based company Syzygy Plasmonics raised $76 million for technology it says can mass-produce chemicals from light, the company tells Axios.

Why it matters: Chemicals manufacturers currently use heat and pressure to make chemicals — an energy-intensive process.

  • Syzygy's founders say their light-based tech is cheaper and cleaner — and it's drawn sizable investments from the oil and chemicals conglomerates it hopes to convert into customers.

Details: Carbon Direct Capital led the Series C round, which closed Nov. 4. The firm gained a seat on Syzygy's board.

  • Aramco Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Lotte Chemical and Toyota Ventures participated.
  • Existing investors Evok Innovations, The Engine, Equinor Ventures, Goose Capital, Horizons Ventures, Pan American Energy, and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas also joined the round.

Of note: It's pronounced "sis-ih-jee." The name refers to when celestial bodies — such as the Sun, Moon and Earth — align.

What's happening: Companies use catalysts to make chemicals. They trigger those catalysts by burning fuel to generate both heat and pressure.

  • Light instead of heat unlocks cost savings because the reactor vessels don't need to withstand intense heat or pressure, so they can be built with cheaper materials. Also, Syzygy's reactors are modular.

What's next: Syzygy is first targeting hydrogen production from ammonia splitting and from steam methane reforming, as well as converting captured carbon dioxide and methane into fuel.

  • It's conducting a field trial with Lotte Chemical in South Korea, as well as pilot projects with other partners.
  • The ultimate goal is a licensing play plus equipment sales. Syzygy would build the reactors and license the tech; other firms would put the steel in the ground.
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