Artificial Photosynthesis Lab aims for 20 patents annually

2024.04.19 08:42:01

Artificial Photosynthesis Lab head Noh Kyung-seop이미지 확대

Artificial Photosynthesis Lab head Noh Kyung-seop

The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is pursuing a business model where world-class scholars at KAIST develop artificial photosynthesis technology and sell it to industries at home and abroad to generate royalty income, according to the lab’s chief.

“In a situation where the climate crisis is engulfing humanity, companies can no longer ignore carbon-neutral technologies,” Artificial Photosynthesis Lab head Noh Kyung-seop said during an interview with Maeil Business Newspaper on Monday.

Just as U.K. semiconductor design company ARM became a global corporation with a market capitalization of 173 trillion won ($125.5 billion) simply by securing core intellectual property (IP) in design technology, Noh believes that the Artificial Photosynthesis Lab should use a similar model for its growth.

The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab is a research institute formed via a joint investment between KAIST and Hana Bank.

KAIST Holdings, the technology holding company of KAIST, invested 4.59 billion in capital to establish the lab in July 2022, with KAIST Holdings providing in-kind contributions and Hana Bank providing cash contributions the following year. The lab receives a 10 billion won investment from Hana Bank in exchange for the patent implementation rights of artificial photosynthesis technology, one of KAIST’s carbon-neutral technologies.

“The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab is the first startup established with investments from KAIST Holdings and Bank,” Noh said. “We completed the registration process for the research institute company in December 2023 and have now established its basic structure.”

The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab’s business goal is to develop carbon-neutral technologies that address global warming and contribute to human society. With Carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies on the rise, artificial photosynthesis is also attracting attention.

Artificial photosynthesis is a system that uses only sunlight to produce useful compounds from carbon dioxide. Inspired by photosynthesis in plants, which converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and stores energy, it can selectively produce various compounds including formic acid, methanol, and pharmaceuticals, unlike natural photosynthesis that only produces glucose.

If commercialized, it can also produce renewable electrical energy, potentially reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and KAIST is demonstrating world-class excellence in artificial photosynthesis research.

Professor Lee Sang-yup of the Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering developed microorganisms that consume carbon dioxide and produce high-value compounds such as bioplastics and hydrogen. There is no researcher in the world who can match the efficiency of microorganisms in consuming carbon dioxide and producing high-value compounds.

Professor Lee Jae-woo of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has developed a technology to decompose methane at high temperatures and produce high-purity hydrogen. The carbon dioxide generated during this process is synthesized into new materials such as carbon nanotubes or carbon nanofibers, which can also be used as electrode materials for secondary batteries.

Researchers including Professor Jung Yeon-sik of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, are using semiconductor manufacturing technology to improve the efficiency of carbon dioxide conversion, are actively involved.

They are all key researchers at the Artificial Photosynthesis Lab.

“As KAIST researchers demonstrate their world-class research capabilities in artificial photosynthesis, they will be an attractive option for domestic and international industries in need of carbon-neutral technologies,” Noh said. “We are already in discussions with several Korean and international companies.”

The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab plans to establish a team to plan and manage technology development related to artificial photosynthesis within this year and to refine future business plans, with a particular focus on expanding its IP expertise.

Together with IP experts such as Noh, who have devised patent licensing technology strategies at joint ventures including Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Corp., it aims to secure core patents and secure personnel for commercialization.

The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab has set a goal of securing about 20 core patents annually based on KAIST professors’ research. The lab plans to complete its core patent portfolio by 2025, and then commence scale-up research the following year to expand laboratory-scale technologies on an industrial scale. It also aims to cooperate with petrochemical and material companies to reach the commercialization stage by the 2030s.

“The Artificial Photosynthesis Lab will be the vanguard for commercializing artificial photosynthesis and will be a company that addresses the global challenge of climate change,” Noh said.

By Ko Jae-won and Lee Eun-joo

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