Ethan Novek. Photo courtesy of Novek.
Ethan Novek, aged 19, is a chemical engineer with 32 patents already added to his resume. One of his many achievements is discovering a simple economic way to clean up fossil fuels.
Interview by Hayley Meisel.
I am a chemical engineer, an inventor and CEO of Innovator Energy. I specialize in circular economy solutions, specifically developing and patenting technologies for transforming harmful waste products into valuable resources and harnessing untapped energy sources.
Tell us about your studies. What are you currently researching?
Modeling scale up effects on absorption kinetics within CO2Evolution® to optimize column size and packing materials within the absorption column.
What is the achievement of yours that you are most proud of? The biggest hurdle that you have overcome?
I am the first chemical engineer in my family. After patenting my new chemical engineering technologies before leaving high school, I faced many hurdles that I did not anticipate. The Chemical Engineering world is very hierarchical. Managing multiple pieces of a project without the support of a dependable scientific team has strengthened my dedication and knowledge. A major turning point was becoming an XPRIZE semifinalist while in high school.
Currently watching/reading/listening to:
I recently watched “I Am Another You” by Nanfu Wang. I am reading “The Sceptical Chymist” by Robert Boyle. Listening to Jacob Banks.
When you’re not working to save the environment, we can find you:
Paddle boarding, sailing, and rowing.
You currently have thirty two patents for CO2 technologies. Where do you go from there?
Currently, commercializing my patented CO2 capture technology, CO2Evolution®, and another patented technology, RecovAm™, which recovers ammonia from agricultural and industrial waste streams. I am scaling up the technologies from the bench scale to the pilot scale.
Your research stemmed from a brainstorm at the beach. What message do you have for people who have an idea but don’t know where to start?
Previous to my work in CO2 capture, I also discovered a new method for a sulphur battery and further developed my patented tidal energy system (which required digging at the beach). While working on the pitfalls of one idea, you may discover a solution to another problem. Be open to improving and pivoting. Examine the potential pitfalls in your idea. Recognize all potential pitfalls have merit. Record each potential pitfall and develop multiple options / pathways for solving each. If you can’t find any pitfalls in a new idea, you are either being dishonest with yourself, you haven’t learned enough about the challenges in the field, or your idea isn’t transformative.
What, do you think, is the most immediate problem we need to take action against?
CO2 emissions are produced in the nature of major industrial processes. Twenty one percent of global CO2 emissions are expected to remain, even in a world powered by 100% renewable electricity. This includes well known industries, such as steel production, cement production, and metal refining. What is less well-known are the immense CO2 emissions in the nature of the synthesis of lithium for lithium ion batteries and polysilicon for the production of solar panels. Currently, the only potential method for addressing CO2 emissions from these industrial sources is CO2 capture. Additionally, twenty eight percent of global oil consumption is used to produce chemicals, plastics, asphalt, and other oil derived non-fuel products. Intersecting the capture/separation of CO2 from industrial emissions with the conversion of CO2 into previously oil-derived products presents one of the greatest opportunities to substantially reduce CO2 emissions, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and increase economic productivity and resource efficiency.
What is a simple thing people can do in their lives to make a big difference in saving the environment?
Grow plants that thrive in the native climate and environment.
You founded your own company, Innovator Energy. What is the concept of this company and what do you work towards doing for it?
Innovator Energy’s technologies transform harmful emissions into valuable chemical feedstocks, eliminating pollution and primary resource extraction. Innovator Energy has developed breakthrough complementary platform technologies for CO2 capture (CO2Evolution®) and ammonia recovery (RecovAm™).
Innovator Energy’s issued patented CO2 capture technology, CO2Evolution®, has lowered the cost of CO2 capture to $5-8 per ton (compared to present technologies, generating a profit of $28 per ton without carbon credits (commercial CO2 commercial market price of $36 per ton). CO2Evolution® transforms industry CO2 emissions into a profitable value stream, while preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere
Innovator Energy’s patented ammonia recovery technology, RecovAm™, reduces the energy required to recover dilute ammonia in agricultural and industry waste streams into pure ammonia using 95% less energy than current ammonia recovery technologies. RecovAm™ also recovers ammonia from presently unrecoverable dilute sources (presently, in ultra-dilute ammonia sources, ammonia is destroyed by present day technologies). Ammonia production emits about 500 million tons of CO2 per year and comprises ~1.2% of global energy consumption. By recovering ammonia from waste streams, RecovAm™ displaces these CO2 emissions, while transforming discarded waste streams into an income stream.
Over the next year, Innovator Energy will be constructing pilot units of CO2Evolution® and RecovAm™ on industry sites.
Who is an eco warrior in your life (a person who inspires you, who you look up to)?
I have recently been inspired by Charles Martin Hall, the inventor of the first inexpensive method of producing aluminum (the Hall–Héroult process) and one of the founders of Alcoa. Hall was 22 years old when he invented the process and filed his first patent. Hall developed the process out of a lab he created in his family home (like myself). His numerous attempts / failures leading to his discovery are well documented. Despite numerous obstacles (including his age), he successfully commercialized the technology, including through developing relationships with people who facilitated the technology’s deployment / commercialization (most famously, Alfred E. Hunt).
Aluminum is an essential material in the 21st century, essential to everything from aluminum foil to electronics to motor vehicle bodies. It is 100% recyclable and can be recycled an infinite number of times. Among other environmental benefits, aluminum has recently played a significant role in increasing the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles through weight reduction, most famously in the Ford F-150 pickup truck and the Tesla Model S.
Do you think awareness of environmental issues has increased over the years? Why?
Awareness of global environmental issues has increased. People are recognizing the environment is intertwined with all aspects of the economy. People are also recognizing improving the environment, depending on the environmental improvement and how it is implemented, can benefit all parties involved.
My Mission is… increase global standard of living while decreasing resource consumption and pollution.