Sun Catalytix, a stealthy operation formed last year to commercialize “solar fuel” research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Polaris Venture Partners that VentureExpert pegs at $700,000. Xconomy reported the story first.
While little is known about Sun Catalytix’s forthcoming products, its founder, MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera, has long been involved in research on hydrogen gas made with only sunlight and water. Basically, the company uses an electrode containing phosphate and cobalt to separate hydrogen gas from water, leaving only hydrogen molecules. A platinum catalyst is then used to turn these molecules into hydrogen gas, which can be used to juice up fuel cells for cars, buildings and other applications. The process is considered solar because the company claims it can harness sunlight to power the chemical reactions.
But there are still a few major hurdles between the technology as it stands now and marketability. The platinum component of the process is too expensive to scale, for one, and the company still needs to devise a material that can absorb enough sunlight to split the water. Pairing these problems with the dip in the solar market due to the economic climate, it will probably be a while yet before we see Sun Catalytix selling its products or services.
As revolutionary as this discovery sounds, Cambridge, Mass.-based Sun Catalytix already has a competitor in Nanoptek — another company that is striving to produce hydrogen gas using a titanium dioxide catalyst. It raised $4.7 million in a first round of capital in January.