Osmoses gets $11M seed to bring its molecule-scale membranes to the hydrogen market


Woman working on membrane filter production line.
Image Credits: Osmoses

A whopping 10% to 15% of the world’s energy goes toward something that, unless you’re a chemical engineer, you probably never think about: separating gasses.

Most of that happens the old-fashioned way by boiling different gasses off the top of various liquids, many of them petrochemicals. As simple as that sounds, the equipment needed to do that is usually enormous. Chemical refineries, for example, can resemble sprawling cities, their distillation columns towering over a web of pipes. All that boiling requires a lot of heat, which tends to come from fossil fuels.

There’s another way, though, called membrane gas separation. In it, a membrane works like a filter, allowing the desired gas or gasses through while leaving the others behind. With membranes, there’s no need for heat, just pressure, something an electrically powered compressor can provide. No fossil fuels required, and the potential for energy savings could be significant.

Today, membrane gas separation represents a relatively small part of the market. But with calls to decarbonize heavy industry, that could change. Osmoses, a startup spun out of MIT and Stanford, is hoping to capitalize on that with a new type of membrane that the company says is more selective and less energy-intensive than others on the market today.

Osmoses makes membranes that are so thin — just a few hundred nanometers — that they need to be plied with additional layers to give them structure. In that wispy-thin layer are holes that are mere angstroms wide, “about the same size as gas molecules,” said Holden Lai, co-founder and CTO of Osmoses.

Lai and Francesco Maria Benedetti, co-founder and CEO of the startup, helped develop the new membrane with their university colleagues, and started the company along with Katherine Mizrahi Rodriguez and Zachary P. Smith in 2021. The team quickly raised a $3 million pre-seed round in November of that year with an $8 million post-money valuation, per PitchBook.

Now the company has raised an $11 million seed round, TechCrunch+ has exclusively learned. The round was led by Energy Capital Ventures with participation from Engine Ventures, Fine Structure Ventures, New Climate Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Little Green Bamboo, BlindSpot Ventures and several angel investors. The company did not disclose an updated valuation with the new funding.

Osmoses is starting with the hydrogen market. “It’s really one of the molecules that is defining the energy transition in terms of alternative gas molecules that can replace current solutions,” Benedetti told TechCrunch+. “Hydrogen is the one that shows the highest potential.”

The company believes its membranes will find a home in hydrogen producers who use pyrolysis — a way of separating hydrogen from methane without producing CO2 — and pipeline operators who transport hydrogen alongside natural gas.

With the seed funding, the company is working toward pilot plants that it plans to deploy next year or the year after, Benedetti said. Osmoses will work with customers to design the membranes, and it will engage other engineering firms to handle the rest of the necessary equipment.

Benedetti said that the company’s membranes are cost competitive with both existing membrane technologies and distillation techniques when a company is designing a plant from scratch. Osmoses isn’t seeking to replace existing distillation equipment.

That approach is sensible, though it will limit its growth potential until some of those facilities either reach the end of their life or, more realistically, regulations force them to shut down.

That Osmoses is targeting hydrogen shows just how much of an impact the Inflation Reduction Act has had on the sector.

Previously, hydrogen’s champions were largely limited to companies like Toyota, which until recently didn’t seem to take batteries seriously, and airplane manufacturers, which were thinking hydrogen might replace jet fuel 50 or so years from now.

Back in 2021, when Osmoses pitched judges at the MIT $100,000 startup competition, hydrogen was a footnote in its slide deck. Then its beachhead market was natural gas producers. But now with tax credits worth up to $3 per kilogram, hydrogen has suddenly become a hot commodity, even if it’s still a ways away from being tracked by analysts as one. Did investors push the change? It’s hard to imagine they didn’t.

Like many parts of the climate tech sector, it’s still too early to tell whether Osmoses will succeed in cracking a profitable portion of the hydrogen market open. Perhaps another market will be more lucrative, but with the IRA’s subsidies guaranteed through 2032, hydrogen will be hard to ignore. 

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares