Via Separations is a startup from a couple of MIT material science engineers who figured out a way to reduce the amount of energy required in a manufacturing process, resulting in lower carbon creation, lower energy usage and lower costs. Today, the company announced a $38 million Series B.
The round was led by NGP ETP, a firm that focuses on investments that lower carbon emissions. In addition, 2040 Foundation participated, along with existing investors The Engine, Safar Partners, Prime Impact Fund, Embark Ventures and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
CEO and co-founder Shreya Dave says the company hopes that by reducing carbon in the manufacturing process, they can help consumers make more green buying choices because the things they buy will have resulted in less carbon creation during manufacturing.
“Basically our vision is if we can decarbonize that supply chain infrastructure, then we don’t have to rely on consumers having to make a decision between the thing that they want and how to do good for the planet,” she told me.
The Via solution sits in a shipping container in the middle of the manufacturing process and acts as a filtration system for whatever is being produced. Dave uses a pasta pot analogy to describe how the filtering process works. “Instead of going into a pot where the water gets boiled off using heat, it goes through a strainer, where we [apply] pressure in order to force it through a filter like a pasta strainer,” she explained.
She said that has a couple of advantages. First of all, it reduces the amount of energy required because it’s using electricity instead of heat, which is using 90% less energy than a heat-based process. What’s more, because the process is using electricity, if you can get that from renewable energy, then you’re both electrifying and improving the energy efficiency of the process.
As an early startup building a complex solution, Via has decided to concentrate on the $5 billion pulp paper industry for now, but the technology could be more broadly applicable in other industries like petrochemicals, food and beverages, and pharmaceuticals.
The company has been working on three pilot projects, but the goal is to eventually offer this solution as a service, which reduces overall capital costs for customers and puts the maintenance burden on the company instead of the customer. They are also building a software monitoring solution to keep an eye on their products as they get deployed to help customers maximize impact and catch any maintenance issues early.
Via spun out from MIT in 2017 and today has 23 employees with a goal of reaching 30 by the end of the year. As a diverse founding team, Dave says she and co-founder and CTO Brent Keller want to build a diverse group of employees.
“My philosophy is that there is a diverse candidate for every job opportunity that we’re hiring for, but there’s also a reality of resource constraints. And so we try to allocate our resources to get the widest perspective,” she said. That may mean hiring based on potential, rather than experience. She says they have also implemented rigorous anti-bias training in the hiring process.
The startup idea has its roots in research that Dave and Keller were doing as graduate students at MIT with their professor Jeffrey Grossman, who is chief scientist at the company.
“My co-founder and I were working on water filtration membranes and looking at how to take salt out of the water to make that process cheaper, better, faster. What we learned is that what we had invented didn’t have a lot of application in water, but had a lot of potential for chemical manufacturing for this raw material, for stuff that wasn’t water,” she said.
When they launched the company, they ended up shifting their focus to industrial manufacturing, which is much more impactful from a greenhouse gas perspective, a point that is particularly important to the founders.