Novomer on Monday launched its first product, a pollution-based plastic used to manufacture electronics, solar equipment and other goods.
The Ithaca, N.Y.-based company, which has engineered a catalyst to make plastics from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is selling what is called a "sacrificial binder," essentially a plastic that holds parts together while they are being manufactured and then is burned away.
The electronics industry in particular needs special sacrificial binders with high levels of purity and is willing to pay a premium price for them, said Fox Holt, a product manager at Novomer.
That willingness to fork out cash is exactly what Novomer is depending upon, because making binders from pollution isn't cheap.
Novomer's binders, which contain 40 percent carbon dioxide, cost between $50 and $200 per pound, compared with an average cost of between $50 and $125 per pound for traditional electronics-industry binders, according to Holt.
But Novomer's plastics don't leave behind a residue like competing binders, saving manufacturers the cost of solvents - and employee time - to remove the residue, Holt said.
Holt said the lack of residue is especially important in nanomanufacturing, where the small scale makes it difficult to remove unwanted byproducts.
Founded in 2004, Novomer is a Cornell University spinoff that last year raised $6.6 million in its first round of venture-capital funding from Physic Ventures and Flagship Ventures (see IN BRIEF: Novomer Gets Cash for Turning Pollution Into Plastic, Ecotality Buys eTec).
Novomer could face competition from other companies making sacrificial binders from greenhouse gases.
Founded in 1991 under the name PAC Polymers, Empower Materials brought its first carbon dioxide-based binder to market in the mid-1990s. The Newark, Del.-based company, which changed its name in 2001, also sells binders made of 40 percent carbon dioxide and 60 percent petrochemicals.
According to Holt, Empower Materials, which holds strong patents for its technology, is the largest provider of carbon dioxide-infused binders today. The binders are used in the solar, semiconductor and diamond-cutting industries, among others.
Empower has the advantage of years of experience and a proven manufacturing capability, said Peter Ferraro, the company's director of business.
But Novomer thinks it will be able to produce its binders more efficiently, and therefore be able to reduce its costs below Empower's. Empower would not disclose its prices.
Still, the market for high-end artificial binders is small; Holt estimated demand at about 300,000 pounds per year.
Both Novomer and Empower Materials say they are developing their technologies for new applications. Among Novomer's goals, Holt said, is to reduce costs so much that its technology can be used to make plastic forks for McDonald's.