In 2011, Vivek Nair was in his final year of college at Sastra University, conducting research on carbon nanotubes (CNTs) when the inability to purchase them for his research, because of the prohibitive cost of $50 per gram, got him thinking. Carbon emissions are plentiful, released from industrial chimneys and automobiles. What if they could be captured and converted into carbon nanostructures? While there have been some theories on the possibility of converting CO2 to CNTs, through a process called ‘re-carbonization’, nothing solid had materialized. Nair was onto something big. He may not have sniffed it out then, but CNTs is currently, a billion-dollar business opportunity.
He got cracking on a science project, with the help of a bunch of friends, and shortly after, they had a breakthrough. “We got the science right and proved that it could be done,” says Abhishek Modi, a core member of the team and currently marketing head of Damascus Fortune (DF), the company that was born out of the efforts to commercialize the research. After success at the lab, they are currently testing the research model by deploying a small prototype at a metallurgical company based in Gujarat, which has been showing a lot of promise. Nair’s technology, which is now patented, processes carbon emissions using a regenerative catalyst to make industry grade CNTs through a process called ‘carbon vapor deposition’. They have plenty of applications, ranging from building space elevators, curing cancer and bendable electronics.
Next up: build a fully functional prototype and deploy across multiple industrial locations. Help to reduce the cost and time to build the prototype has come from unusual quarters- from Tom Chi, experience lead, Google X- considered a rapid prototyping genius. Modi met Chi, onboard a ship, which is part of a program called Unreasonable at Sea. “Chi suggested that instead of building the whole prototype and then testing it, we could build a few features connected to our goal, and test only those. His inputs helped us reduce our costs by 4x,” remarks Modi, talking via Skype from the ship, enroute to South Africa. Damascus is part of 10 different companies that are part of this journey at sea that stops at 14 different destinations. Besides the opportunity to interact with mentors like Chi, the bigger incentive is to meet with local entrepreneurs and investors, who could be potential clients.
Realizing that the bigger opportunity lies in North America and the Asia-Pacific region, DF plans to go global, sometime this year or early next year. They are also planning to diversify, and go beyond CNTs, by manufacturing carbon composites. CNTs are approximately a $1 billion industry, carbon composites, on the other hand is a $24 billion opportunity. Nair, CEO of DF, is currently finishing his PhD at Nanyang Technological University. His vision for DF is clear. “I want to see DF’s technology converting carbon emissions from almost all industries and automobiles with maximum efficiency into carbon nanostructures,” says Nair.
Nair’s dream will be good for India’ environment. “To make one gram of carbon nanotubes, there is a reduction of 35-40 grams of carbon dioxide. We are thinking of dealing in carbon credits, but for that we need scale,” adds Modi.
To go global, build scale and set-up their own R&D unit for testing and purification DF will raise a Series A round of funding in the next 12 months.