This NYU Tandon startup wants to lead a new generation of sustainable chemical engineering
Sunthetics is taking a new approach to chemical engineering, prioritizing sustainability. They’re starting with nylon.
July 09, 2019
When it comes to nylon, not much has changed since 1935, according to Sunthetics co-founder Myriam Sbeiti. That was the year that E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company first produced the polymer. Since then, the durable polymer has made its way into hundreds of consumer products, perhaps most notably clothing. In the nylon market, sustainability is not given nearly the same weight as price, Sbeiti said, but she is determined to create a new production method for nylon that can compete on cost and can make the production of the material much greener. We sat down with Sbeiti in Downtown Brooklyn, close to her lab at NYU Tandon to find out how she and her cofounders, both of whom she met and worked with at the university, could realize the idea.
The Sunthetics founding team (from left): Miguel Modestino, Myriam Sbeiti, and Daniela Blanco.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership: Explain what you’re working on.
Myriam Sbeiti: Sunthetics is developing more efficient and sustainable chemical processes for the production of nylon using electricity as energy instead of heat derived from oil. Our first product is manufacturing equipment for the electrochemical production of a nylon chemical intermediate called adiponitrile (ADN). With our equipment, we can reduce raw material and energy usage by at least 30%, while also reducing waste products. On top of that, the use of electricity enables us to directly couple with renewable energies, effectively removing a large chunk of carbon emissions related to this process.
DBP: What was the problem in the market you saw that you thought you could fix?
MS: As a group of chemical engineers, we felt like sustainability still wasn’t important enough in design considerations. So we set out to look for ways we can improve both sustainability and efficiency, which is what we are able to do with a specific set of reactions called electrochemical reactions. It turns out that one of the largest organic electrochemical processes is the production of ADN to make nylon. Currently, the ADN market is under a lot of stress due to supply shortages, price hikes, and competition for nylon with more sustainable alternatives like cotton or polyester. Our process is more reliable and more cost-effective while offering a sustainability aspect that was previously nonexistent.
Our process is more reliable and more cost-effective while offering a sustainability aspect that was previously nonexistent.
DBP: Who’s on the team?
MS: Myself, Daniela Blanco, and Miguel Modestino are the Sunthetics co-founders. I graduated from NYU Tandon School of Engineering with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and have some experience leading and developing cleantech from solar-hydrogen generators to air quality sensors. Daniela is currently a third-year PhD student at NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Chemical Engineering, and graduated with the same degree from Universidad Simon Bolivar in Venezuela. She has multiple patents and publications in this field. Miguel is an assistant professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering in the same field and has a B.S/M.S from MIT, PhD from UC Berkeley, and a postdoc at EPFL in Switzerland. He has extensive in-depth experience and understanding of electrochemical reactions and is the author of several talks, publications, and patents.
DBP: How has the Brooklyn tech ecosystem affected your company?
MS: We work out of Downtown Brooklyn, at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The area has given us a wide range of resources, from NYU’s MakerSpace, to the Urban Future Labs and ACRE, to PowerBridgeNY; the funding, mentors, and infrastructure of these resources has enabled us to raise $400,000 in non-dilutive funding while progressively de-risking our technology through a multi-phase scale-up process.
Sunthetics is working to make nylon production more sustainable through the use of electricity.
DBP: What are the pluses and minuses of keeping your business in Brooklyn? MS: The network of assets we have already built in Brooklyn is a big plus to staying here, along with the multiple university resources and information we have at our fingertips. Unfortunately, a big missing piece for us is our own chemical lab space for R&D and chemical manufacturing space later on.
The company has successfully used its technique to produce a small sample of ADN in the lab, and is working now on scaling up its reactor to produce a large enough quantity to reach a pilot amount. The team continues its work within NYU Tandon’s growing ecosystem of labs, materials, and connections, and aims to have a full pilot up and running by 2022.
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