Environment & Engineering

The life of Liquium

Published Jun 2, 2022

Liquium is the latest venture to spin out of Wellington UniVentures. Liquium develops new catalysts to dramatically reduce the energy required to produce ammonia – a process which currently makes up 2-3% of global carbon emissions. Paul Geraghty, Senior Commercialisation Manager at Wellington UniVentures is to become Liquium’s new CEO after working on the project since 2018 when he first began his career in the commercialisation ecosystem. In just four years, Paul Geraghty has taken the steps to guide the project through to a start-up.

Ammonia is one of the largest chemical industrial processes on earth; globally ammonia-based fertilisers are  responsible for feeding half the world’s population. But each tonne of ammonia produced results in three tons of carbon dioxide. Currently, large-scale and emission-intensive centralised production are the only economically viable pathways of ammonia production. Liquium is paving the way to set new industry standards by revolutionising the way ammonia is produced. The new process breaks nitrogen bonds under mild conditions, making it less energy-intensive and more environmentally friendly as a result. Taking shape as a commercial venture, Wellington UniVentures supported the development of the research conducted by Associate Professor at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, Franck Natali and Dr Jay Chen, by validating the technology, protecting the IP and identifying and approaching industry partners.

From intern to CEO

Wellington Univentures’ Senior Commercialisation Manager, Paul Geraghty, has been a part of this journey right from the start. Paul completed his undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Canterbury and then travelled to the University of Melbourne to complete his PhD in chemistry, where he investigated new organic photovoltaic materials. During his academic studies, he developed a keen interest in applied research, particularly in the energy sector and looking for solutions for a specific problem that impacted or limited the deployment of a technology. In 2018 he joined Wellington UniVentures as an intern.

Paul’s experience in this field set him in good stead to work on the Liquium project. His academic understanding for research and development alongside a motivated founding team helped to identify the key technical barriers that needed solving in the ammonia industry and a feasible pathway to address these.

Working with industry partners Liquium is now working to apply the catalyst process to the shipping industry. In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050. But existing clean energy technologies—such as electrochemical batteries and hydrogen fuel—do not have the energy density or ease of handling required to operate large shipping vessels. Ammonia has been identified as the best zero-carbon fuel with sufficient energy density to tackle the huge emissions of heavy industries.

With further funding, the Liquium team have been able to scale up production, ensuring its efficacy for industry use. The research has also been recognised globally, seeing lead researcher and Liquium’s CTO Ass. Prof. Franck Natali accepted on to the inaugural Breakthrough Energy Fellowship – a programme established in 2015 by Bill Gates and a coalition of private investors concerned about the impacts of climate change.

In May 2022, the pieces came together and Liquium spun out. Liquium successfully closed its $1.5M Seed venture investment round, which was jointly led by Matū Karihi Fund and New Zealand Booster Innovation Fund, with co-investors in the Climate VC Fund, K1W1, Angel HQ and a private angel investor. The goal now is for Liquium to continue to grow and expand its presence in the clean energy space. Paul Geraghty says: “This is an exciting time for Liquium and it’s been great to work with the team to get it to this point. We have a clear pathway for engagement and scaling in New Zealand and abroad and hope to play a significant role in the global decarbonisation effort and uptake of renewable clean energy.”

While the Wellington UniVentures team will be sad to see Paul go, this is a great opportunity for him to start a new adventure and take on the challenge of becoming a CEO. Anne Barnett, Wellington UniVentures’ CEO says: “Paul has had the opportunity to work across an industry that has changed rapidly as political, financial and industry leaders aim to make change and reverse the impacts of climate change. Paul and the Liquium team are now frontiers in the clean ammonia space, helping to make a difference not only in Aotearoa New Zealand, but globally too. I wish them luck on this endeavour, and we look forward to watching Liquium grow.”