Eight Innovators to Watch in 2017

Meet original thinkers who are breaking ground in medicine, art, drone design, fighting climate change and more

(Clockwise from top left: Justin Kao; Rachel Rossin; Kendra Kuhl, Nicholas Flanders, Etosha Cave; Adam Bry)
smithsonian.com

Innovation is almost always about collaboration. Rarely are breakthroughs the result of a genius working alone. And yet there are always some innovators who take the lead and help ensure that game-changing ideas become reality. Here are eight to keep your eyes on in 2017.

Kendra Kuhl, Nicholas Flanders, Etosha Cave: Turning Waste CO2 Into Useful Products

(Opus 12)

One of the bigger challenges of reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been making carbon capture feasible on a meaningful scale. That’s the process where waste carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power plants is “captured” and stored underground, instead of being released into the atmosphere. However, it largely remains an expensive and difficult undertaking.

But what if all that waste carbon dioxide could be converted into products that could be used?

That’s the focus of a Berkeley, California firm called Opus 12, co-founded by three scientists who met at Stanford—Kendra Kuhl, Nicholas Flanders and Etosha Cave. Together, they’ve created a small reactor that can recycle carbon dioxide into other carbon-based compounds that ultimately could be used to replace petroleum-based plastics or even converted to gasoline. In 2016, Opus 12 was chosen to receive funding from Breakout Labs, an organization that supports hard science research, and it was a winner at the Forbes Change the World competition. It also advanced to the semifinals of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition to develop breakthrough technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions into useful products.

“In 2017,” says Kuhl, “we’ll be focusing on scaling up our device from something you can hold in your hand to something the size of a refrigerator that can take up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide per day and convert it into higher value products.”

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