John Sofranko on Building a Chemical Startup

In April, AIChE's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneuring Excellence (CIEE) will host the 2019 Chemical Ventures Conference in Wilmington, Delaware, at the Delaware Innovation Space. This conference will focus on innovation, investment, and deal flow in the chemical industry.

I caught up with John Sofranko, founder of EcoCatalytic Inc. and a speaker at this year's conference, to ask him a few questions about his experience and background with chemical startups, as well as challenges he faces as an entrepreneur.

Introduce your startup to our readers. How did you get started? Where are you located?

I founded Bio2Electric, LLC in 2009 (also known as EcoCatalytic Technologies), and then later started the commercialization company EcoCatalytic, Inc in 2018 in Princeton, NJ, to focus on innovations for chemicals and fuel production with dramatically reduced environmental impact compared to existing petrochemical processes.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and pursue your idea?

Early in my career, I invented and implemented a number of technologies at Arco Chemical Co.; in later years, I was able to gain business experience managing strategic planning, licensing, mergers and acquisitions, and production and sales of major petrochemicals. With the advent of increased natural gas supplies in the US, I saw an opportunity to invent new technologies based on some old concepts, with a particular focus on carbon dioxide reduction. I decided to form Bio2Electric, LLC, and EcoCatalytic Inc. to leverage the breadth of my professional experiences on current industry challenges.

What problem does your startup hope to address?

EcoCatalytic has developed promising innovations for converting natural gas to ethylene, a major chemical feedstock, using less energy and with significantly lower environmental impact then the current industry process. The company has raised more than $11MM from government funding and private contributions to advance these projects; they are currently pursuing strategic alliances and investments from major industry players to continue development.

EcoCatalytic has also developed processes to convert natural gas to fungible liquid fuel (GTL). While this technology is applicable on a large scale at petrochemical plants, and has significant environmental benefits to current processes, EcoCatalytic sees a unique opportunity to implement the technology with natural gas produced by hydraulic fracking. 

What are some of the challenges your startup faces, specifically as a chemical startup?

Fracking sites are typically small, isolated, and with relatively short lifespans. Fracking products must be transported to petrochemical complexes for further conversion. In many locations, along with oil, fracking produces natural gas containing high levels of heavier hydrocarbons; flaring is often the most cost-effective way to deal with this gas. EcoCatalytic’s GTL technology has the potential to convert this natural gas to fungible liquid fuel in on-site small, mobile reactors, eliminating the need to transport the gas. 

EcoCatalytic is looking for funding to build a demonstration unit to prove the technical and financial viability of this concept and promote the licensing of this technology.  

The Chemical Ventures Conference 2019 will be held April 23-24, 2019 in Wilmington, DE. Learn more about the conference and register.

John Sofranko

John has executive management experience in association management, mergers & acquisitions, corporate strategic planning, general business management, licensing, research and development. Read more