Putting Nanoparticles to Work: Spinoff wants to make diesel cleaner

Red Herring
By Andrea Quong

July 10, 2007

Cerion Energy, the first startup to launch out of a Rochester Institute of Technology incubator program, has raised $1.2 million in funding to bring to market a nano-particle diesel fuel additive that could cut pollution by up to 80 percent, the company said Tuesday.

The additive, which is being tested by upstate New York trucking and fuel distribution companies, enables diesel fuel to burn more efficiently in the engine, potentially boosting fuel economy by 10 miles per gallon and reducing soot and sulfur dioxide emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent, said Mick Stadler, Cerion president and co-founder.

Braemar Energy Ventures led the round and was joined by Excell Partners, an early stage–focused venture capital fund established by the State of New York and the University of Rochester. Buoyed by the infusion, Cerion Energy moved out of the incubator, Venture Creations, earlier this week after more than 16 months, Mr. Stadler said.

Reducing pollution is a priority for truckers since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened its standards in January for sulfur dioxide from diesel exhaust from 500 to 15 parts per million, Mr. Stadler said. Cerion's approach is a departure from more conventional methods of reducing diesel emissions through increasingly complicated mechanical means like catalytic converters, he said.

“Realistically, the problem is not a mechanical problem; it's a chemical problem,” Mr. Stadler said. “We've attacked the problem as chemists, not as mechanical engineers, and we've used nanotechnology as the vehicle to do that.”

Cerium dioxide, a key compound at the core of the technology formed in part from the “rare earth” element of cerium, has been used before by other companies as a cleaner-burning diesel fuel additive. Oxonica, the U.K.-based nano-materials group, also makes diesel additives using the compound. But Cerion Energy claims it has advanced the technology by producing uniform and pure nano-particles more cheaply and in volume. In addition to cerium dioxide, it has added a second, undisclosed nano-size compound.

The Rochester, New York-based company aims to produce 10,000 gallons of additive a month by the end of the year, Mr. Stadler said. Current production, limited to a 250-gallon reactor, is being tested by diesel distributor Griffith Energy, also of Rochester, and two local trucking companies. Cerion, which has applied for 15 patents, is also working on a diesel additive that reduces pollution from nitrogen oxides.

Cerion Energy was founded in February by Mr. Stadler and former Eastman Kodak researcher Kenneth Reed, a Rochester Institute of Technology alumnus. The company is also working to develop pollution-reducing additives for biodiesel, gasoline, and coal-fired plants, according to Mr. Stadler. But the U.S. diesel market, in which distributors handle three-quarters of the fuel, is a no-brainer, he said.

“It's an easier marketplace to go after than Big Oil or individual truck stops,” Mr. Stadler said.