Anna Douglas headshotBy Anna Douglas, Co-Founder and CEO, SkyNano

This year has been monumental for SkyNano. In six months, we have gained over $4 million in funding to bring our carbon structures to the advanced energy marketplace, named in the top 60 finalists for the $100 million Elon Musk Carbon Removal competition, and were even recognized with a Tennessee Governor’s Award for Environmental Stewardship.

In January we were awarded a $1 million SBIR Phase II grant by the National Science Foundation to lead research efforts for the development of carbon nanotube technology, then shortly after received $1.25 million from the U.S. Department of Defense Air Force SBIR Phase II program.

Just last month, the Department of Energy announced that SkyNano would be one of the 18 companies sharing the $39 million in funding for projects seeking to develop technologies that can transform buildings into net carbon storage structures. This is a $2 million project in collaboration with local partners Endeavor Composites and The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

A global effort

Taking a closer look at our most recent milestone, the Department of Energy selected us for the Harnessing Emissions into Structures Taking Inputs from the Atmosphere (HESTIA) program in an effort to tackle one of the hardest to decarbonize sectors, as buildings account for a significant portion of emissions globally.

Our goal in the HESTIA program is to develop new building materials, namely non-load bearing panels that can be utilized as wall coverings, ceiling tiles, and even flooring, which are carbon negative in nature. These panels will be comprised of SkyNano CO2-derived carbon nanotubes, Endeavor Composites’ technology to utilize reclaimed carbon fibers diverted from the landfill and University of Tennessee technology to implement agricultural waste fibers into structural panels. We’re really excited about this project and partnership.

Influential partners

In the last five years, SkyNano has catapulted from incubation to successful implementation. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for Tom Rogers and the Innovation Crossroads program. We’re extremely grateful for Oak Ridge National Lab and DOE’s support of the program, which gave us two years to explore our business model, develop our technology further, and gain a foothold in the local ecosystem that we’ve been able to rely on since graduating the program in 2019. 

Another influential factor has been the UT Spark Innovation Center, as we’ve been able to use laboratory space at UT’s Cherokee Farms Research Park for the last two years while we found and set up our own commercial laboratory space. In 2020, we received a $2.5 million, three-year project from the US Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy and Carbon Management program, which gave us the ability to hire top talent with expertise in scaling electrochemical systems and industrial relationships.

We’re at the forefront of contributing to the clean energy industry in the state, and as a member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and graduate of the Energy Mentor Network, we benefit from the networking of Tennessee’s leaders in the advanced energy sector. 

Tennessee’s advanced energy economy

One of the reasons we joined TAEBC is because SkyNano’s technologies have an active role in Tennessee’s advanced energy economy. We have an ongoing partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority to work towards decarbonization of their natural gas power plant emissions – which has a significant impact on the entirety of the Tennessee economy. Decarbonized baseload power is an extremely attractive recruitment tool for Tennessee to bring in more top companies to operate here.

Furthermore, Tennessee is becoming a significant player in the electric vehicle production space. If EV battery production ramps up, many of our products have a natural fit into that supply chain.

Sky’s the limit

Looking ahead, SkyNano is also one of the first companies that has transitioned out of University of Tennessee facilities and into its own worksite. We’re so excited about our own space! Our larger lab will enable us to bring more production capacity online and reach larger customers.

Knoxville has, and has had for some time now, all the resources to make science-based technology startups successful. As some of us who have been here for a few years now start seeing big successes, it’s important to realize and appreciate all the resources, people, and institutions that have been here supporting this growing ecosystem for a long time. We are extremely grateful for this support, and I know we are just scratching the surface of East Tennessee’s potential impact in cleantech entrepreneurship.

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