Green chemistry company SiGNa Chemistry said Tuesday it had licensed patents from ExxonMobil that will lead to the more environmentally friendly production of rubber and plastics.
The company didn’t disclose the price of the exclusive license. But what SiGNa got out of the deal was a group of chemical catalysts that are used to produce materials such as synthetic rubber and plastics.
Making some rubbers and plastics requires "isomerization," which is basically the rearrangement of atoms or bonds within a molecule.
Conventional catalysts used in the isomerization process are hazardous and highly reactive, SiGNa said. As a result, such catalysts are expensive to handle, and they require rubber and plastic makers to take several steps to get the exact reaction they need.
The catalysts SiGNa has licensed from Exxon are more stable and are easier to manipulate, so that producers can trigger the reaction they want more easily and safely.
They simplify the process, reducing the number of steps required to make the rubbers and plastics, CEO Michael Lefenfeld said. They also reduce the amount of energy used in the process, because they allow reactions to take place at room temperature, and they reduce the amount of solvent needed, he said.
All this adds up to a greener, more energy-efficient and cheaper chemical process, Lefenfeld said.
SiGNa is ready to commercialize the catalysts and already is in discussions with potential customers, he said.
SiGNa is not alone in its work to help green the petrochemical space. Company giants like DuPont and Dow Chemical are also stepping up efforts.
But that hasn’t stopped investors from keeping a watchful eye on SiGNa or from submitting unsolicited financing offers, Lefenfeld said.
So far, SiGNa, which was founded in 2004, has closed one round of funding from Provenance Venture Partners. The company raised the undisclosed amount last March.
Apart from the Exxon catalysts, SiGNa already has developed and commercialized stabilizers for alkali metals widely used in the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries. The stabilizers enable reactions to happen at room temperatures -- again requiring less energy -- and make reactive metals inert until they are needed, eliminating the danger of fire or oxidation, the company claims.
The company also is using the same approach to develop a stable dry powder that can produce hydrogen gas at room temperature. SiGNa hopes the technology could help expand the use of portable fuel cells by making it easier to make hydrogen where it’s needed.