Why We Invested in Found Energy: The Importance of Circular Energy Solutions

By Danielle Joseph

November 27, 2023

At Closed Loop Partners, we focus on investing in the circular economy––advancing solutions that reduce waste through material reduction, alternative materials, reuse and end-of-life solutions like recycling. 

Through our work, we help reduce the 45% of all emissions derived from the way we make and use products––and where relevant to materials management, we also address the 55% of emissions that are tied to energy production.

Our most recent investment through the Closed Loop Ventures Group in Boston-based company Found Energy embodies this crossover between energy production and materials management. Found Energy upcycles contaminated aluminum into clean hydrogen fuel, while also returning the aluminum to its pre-processing state, creating a fully circular loop for the material. By treating aluminum scrap with a catalyst and then activating it with water, Found Energy creates 1) energy in the form of hydrogen and steam and 2) alumina trihydrate (ATH), a raw material used to manufacture aluminum.

The process unlocks two major benefits:

  • Onsite Energy Generation: Any equipment manufacturer, processor or even materials recovery facility can produce their own on-site, clean hydrogen fuel and steam using energy dense aluminum as a means of energy storage. On-site production helps alleviate the challenge of expensive hydrogen transportation and storage.
  • Upcycling: Aluminum alloys otherwise destined for downcycling may be reintroduced into the supply chain as alumina trihydrate that can then be processed into virgin-grade aluminum.

Why does aluminum recovery matter?

Aluminum is already one of the most abundantly recycled metals on the planet and can be recycled many times over. More than other classes of recyclables, there is broad consumer participation in aluminum recovery (by recycling cans), and the prevalence of aluminum as a lightweight structural element in manufactured goods (such as automobiles and appliances) means that ample end-of-life aluminum is processed every year. In fact, 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. Recycled aluminum only takes ~5% of the energy needed to make new aluminum and reduces the need to mine for bauxite––the most common ore needed for aluminum.

However, while recycling rates for aluminum are generally high, they differ substantially by product, alloy and region, ranging from as low as 20% to as high as 80% for some packaging products. We have learned that in the depths of smelters, aluminum recycling is limited to recovery within established alloy classes (meaning two or more metals or a metal with another non-metallic addition). Given that aluminum is 2x more energy dense than diesel and 5x more energy dense than methanol, there is value in finding opportunities to keep more aluminum in circulation as both a material and energy source.

The main challenge with recovering scrap aluminum is removing tramp elements, which cannot be separated easily by current smelting processes given the high melting temperature of aluminum (660° C). This means contaminated aluminum is often downcycled or ends up in landfills.

Found Energy has discovered a clean energy solution for scrap aluminum, working at the intersection of circular economy principles and the clean energy transition. After building this technology for years during his time at MIT and motivated by his work at NASA, co-founder and CEO Peter Godart brought Found Energy to life in 2022.

Unlike other energy solutions we have seen, Found Energy considered end-of-life from the very beginning of their development process, while using scrap aluminum as a wholly recoverable material source for energy generation plus storage. We fully support the transition to renewable feedstocks for clean energy, while recognizing that the structures required to facilitate clean energy transfers, like solar panels and wind turbines, often utilize extractive or single-use resources that frequently end up in landfill after they are decommissioned. We believe that it is better both economically and ecologically to keep these materials in circulation, and up until recently, had yet to find an energy technology that is inherently circular––inclusive of the materials used in the machinery and the renewable feedstock.

We were impressed with the elegance of a solution that uses a ubiquitous metal as a novel hydrogen source, is highly mobile, and can be distributed. Distributed assets will continue to be a priority in places where heavy materials would otherwise be transported long distances, or where permitting and absence of transmission infrastructure can keep manufacturing operations from scaling up their energy loads as needed.

To create a truly waste-free future for renewable energy, we must support the circularity of materials, alongside clean energy innovation. Reducing carbon through circular processes like material recovery and re-manufacturing is critical to reaching our CO2e mitigation goals and living in an ecosystem that is resilient to further climate shocks. Found Energy is helping pave the path forward.

About Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is a leading investment firm advancing the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: its investment arm, Closed Loop Capital Management; its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy; and its operating group, Circular Services. Closed Loop Capital Management manages venture capital, buyout private equity and catalytic private credit investment strategies. The firm’s venture capital group, the Closed Loop Ventures Group, has been investing early-stage capital into companies developing breakthrough solutions for the circular economy since 2016. The Closed Loop Ventures Group’s portfolio includes companies developing leading innovations in material science, robotics, agritech, sustainable consumer products and advanced technologies that further the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners is based in New York City and is a registered B Corp. closedlooppartners.com.

About Found Energy

Found Energy is a Boston-based company building rechargeable aluminum fuel power systems aimed at eliminating carbon emissions from heavy industrial applications ranging from industrial heating (7% of global CO2 emissions) to maritime shipping (3% of global CO2 emissions). Building off technology developed at MIT that enables metallic aluminum to split water, our energy delivery systems safely generate hydrogen and/or industrial heat on-site at >5x the volumetric energy density of liquid hydrogen, >3x that of methanol and ammonia, and >25x that of Li-ion batteries. By integrating storage, transport, and generation into a single package, our technology solves some of the biggest pain points in renewable energy transmission and storage.

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