More than 50% of the energy consumed by the European chemical industry comes from non-renewable sources. The reality of this sector has a clear environmental impact that could be reduced if the gas and oil it consumes were replaced by electricity generated from renewable sources. That is the goal of young chemical engineer Daniela Blanco, who is aiming to accelerate the electrification of the chemical industry with the help of artificial intelligence through her start-up Sunthetics.
The company produces the equipment needed to replace thermal energy with electrochemical reactions. "The idea is that by using electricity you can more easily implement renewable energies and spend less because the processes are more efficient. You also eliminate the need to use the toxic chemicals that are used in thermal processes and not in electric ones," Blanco explains. For this breakthrough, Blanco has been chosen by MIT Technology Review in Spanish's as one of the winners of Innovators under 35 Latin America 2020.
The young woman explains that, despite the environmental advantages of electrochemical processes, these processes are not generally used in the industry due to a lack of the necessary equipment and because they are not efficient enough. To solve this problem, the company's "chemical reactors are designed to maximize the efficiency of the project together with artificial intelligence algorithms. So the reactor advises you on the conditions under which the reaction should be conducted to make it as efficient as possible," Blanco explains.
Thanks to this intelligent optimization, the efficiency of Blanco's electric reactors can match or exceed those using other energy sources while maintaining a sustainable approach. She first developed solutions for the nylon industry and is currently working to adapt the technology to other processes in the chemical industry.
Her technology currently produces one kilogram of product per day with lower carbon dioxide emissions than its non-electric counterparts. The cost reduction ,thanks to Sunthetics, is up to 20%, with 30% less raw material and energy consumption, according to the engineer.
The innovator's goal is to set up pilot plants in the pharmaceutical industry in the short term. After this first step, which will improve drug production, Blanco hopes to be able to create larger reactors for other industries and thus revolutionize the chemical industry. "We are working to offer the first smart electrochemical reactors available on the market," she adds.
Fernando Meneses, director and founder of nodolab (Mexico) and member of the Innovators under 35 Latin America 2020 jury, considers Sunthetics to be an "excellent project" because of its "reduction and improvement of the impact of the chemical industry."