Cornell spinoff Novomer receives national award

The three co-founders of Novomer, a startup company based on Cornell research, have received the 2016 Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success from the American Chemical Society (ACS), the society has announced.

Company Vice President Scott Allen, Ph.D. ’04; founding CEO and board Chairman Anthony Eisenhut ’88; and Geoffrey Coates, professor of chemistry and chemical biology, received the honor for their development of innovative technologies that have benefited society and improved people’s lives.

Novomer developed two breakthrough chemical processes. One combines traditional chemical feedstocks – fossil fuels – with carbon dioxide to create environmentally friendly and higher-performing polycarbonates. The other uses an ethane-based feedstock – ethylene oxide – together with carbon monoxide to create chemicals at lower cost and with significant reductions in energy consumption.

The company was created in 2004 around the polycarbonate technology developed at Cornell by Coates, an internationally known polymer chemist whose research focuses on development of new catalyst systems for the synthesis of novel polymers. Over the past 15 years, the Coates lab has made several major discoveries that contribute to sustainable chemistry, including novel catalysts to synthesize polyesters. Coates, with then-graduate student Allen, initially developed zinc-based catalysts for epoxide/carbon dioxide polymerizations leading to aliphatic polycarbonates. Substantially improved cobalt-based catalysts quickly followed.

Novomer’s breakthrough scientific approach attracted significant industrial attention and funding, thanks to Eisenhut’s efforts. Novomer raised a $6.5 million Series A investment round in 2007, a $12 million Series B investment round and a $10 million Series C investment round to begin scaled commercialization activities.

More recently, Novomer has developed a process to transform two low-cost shale gas components, carbon dioxide and ethylene oxide, into such chemicals as acrylic acid, butanediol and other commonly used components of paints, coatings, textiles and diapers. The new process, which will enter a $20 billion global market, is being developed with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative.

The ACS 2016 award winners will be honored at a March 15 ceremony during the ACS National Meeting in San Diego.

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Joe Schwartz