It was the first Stanford Space Initiative club meeting of the year, and students from across the school filed up the steps of the Aerospace Engineering building and into a conference room. It was on this chilly autumn evening in Palo Alto that Opus 12’s co-founders met for the first time.
Dr. Kendra Kuhl (CTO) and Dr. Etosha Cave (CSO) had been working in the Jaramillo laboratory, a chemical engineering group at the cutting edge of CO2 electrocatalysis. In their graduate studies, they developed nanoscale metal structures that were capable of transforming CO2 into higher-value products at near-ambient conditions. In a seminal paper, they published results that showed an unprecedented breadth of compounds that could be synthesized from CO2 electrochemically. The potential seemed tremendous: basically anything that can be made from oil today could be made from recycled CO2 emissions and renewable electricity.
The environmental impact would be enormous: if coupled with low-carbon electricity, electrochemical reduction of CO2 (ECO2R) could offset one third of global energy-related CO2 emissions. That’s like taking every car and truck off the road, every plane from the sky, and pulling the plug on every petrochemicals plant in the world.
The implications went beyond Earth as well – and that’s why they were at the Space Initiative meeting. The atmosphere of Mars is 95% CO2. If they could build a device that contained CO2 electrocatalysts, they could transform the atmosphere into useful products for a future colony: plastics for tools and habitations, fuels for refueling rockets.
In 2015, Kendra and Etosha co-founded Opus 12 with Nicholas Flanders (CEO), a fellow Stanford graduate student with previous successful startup experience and a foundational career in cleantech. This is Nicholas’s second X Prize bid, having participated in Cornell University’s bid to build a 100 mile per gallon car in 2008.
Opus 12 was one of six clean energy startups selected from around the country to be incubated in the prestigious Cyclotron Road program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which is where Opus 12 headquarters are located today. Working rapidly in the world-class research facilities at LBNL, Opus 12’s team translated their foundational discoveries into a high-performance reactor. Opus 12’s flexible, modular, low-cost reactor is a platform technology, capable of transforming any source of CO2 into a wide range of products, depending on which catalyst is used.
Since the founding days at Stanford, Opus 12 has grown to a team of seven, bringing on a talented group of electrochemists and material scientists scouted from across the country: George Leonard, Daniel Diaz, Annie Zeng and Dr. Sichao Ma. A lean startup team, Opus 12 is a hard science company in the heart of Silicon Valley, with the same culture of rapid iteration, disruptive innovation, and tremendous vision that has made this region the hub for technical innovation in the world. With the ability to use cutting-edge equipment, access world-class lab facilities, and collaborate with industry-leading scientists at the National Lab.
At OPUS 12, we are building an electrochemical reactor that bolts onto any industrial source of CO2 emissions, and using only water and electricity as inputs, transforms that CO2 directly into some of the world’s highest-volume chemical products (ECO2R) – for less than the cost of conventional methods.