Skip to Content

Siluria Taps Natural Gas Glut to Make Chemicals

The MIT spin-off lands $30 million to build a demonstration plant that makes ethylene from natural gas, rather than oil.

Siluria has raised the funds it needs to build a demonstration plant for making the chemical ethylene from natural gas, rather than oil.

Nanowire: Siluria develops nanowire catalysts for converting methane to ethylene.
Credit: Siluria

The MIT spin-off announced yesterday that it has raised $30 million in a round led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital and Moscow, Russia-based Bright Capital. Existing venture capital investors, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, also participated, bringing the total the company has raised to $63.3 million.

The company has developed a method for turning methane, the main component of natural gas, into ethylene, a common industrial chemical normally derived from oil. Ethylene is used in the production of many everyday products, such as the plastic, and could be converted into liquid fuel.

Typically, refiners “crack” petroleum with heat to produce ethylene, a smaller chain hydrocarbon. Siluria instead uses catalysts to chemically combine two methane molecules to make ethylene, a process which can operate at much lower temperatures and is far less energy-intensive than traditional steam cracking.

The company’s technology originated in the lab of materials scientist and biological engineer Angela Belcher at MIT, whose research focuses on mimicking natural processes to make desired products, such as a virus-powered battery. Siluria has a catalyst-screening and discovery process where a virus serves as a template for creating nanowire catalysts, (see “Natural Gas to Chemicals”). The method lets Siluria refine the catalysts and expand its library, which the company says gives it an advantage over the many other methods tried for making ethylene from methane.

Today’s funding will allow the company to build a demonstration plant next year to fine-tune the process, according to the company. Siluria then intends to partner with chemical companies for commercial-scale plants. The company says that its catalysts can work with conventional reactors, which reduces the risk of scaling up.

Given the low cost of natural gas, it’s not surprising Siluria, which raised $20 million less than a year ago (see “Natural Gas Upgrade”), has attracted more funding. Expect more companies to seek out methods for making chemicals or fuels with methane as a feedstock. 

Keep Reading

Most Popular

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

pig kidney transplant surgery
pig kidney transplant surgery

Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient

The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

thermal image of young woman wearing mask
thermal image of young woman wearing mask

The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state

Heat-sensing cameras and face recognition systems may help fight covid-19—but they also make us complicit in the high-tech oppression of Uyghurs.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.