Alex Lewis: Forging a Path from Food Waste to Clean Fuel
Greetings all! I’m Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on climate change. Today I’m excited to talk to Alex Lewis of Electro-Active Technologies.
Spiffy: Welcome, Alex! Thanks for taking the time to share about your new venture. Can you tell me a bit about your work and what climate challenge you’re undertaking?
Alex: Thanks for having me Spiffy! As you might know, food waste is a global issue and a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, the world needs affordable, zero-emission energy. We’ve created Electro-Active Technologies to help solve both of these challenges by utilizing organic waste to generate renewable products, such as hydrogen. Our circular approach to hydrogen production can create a negative carbon pathway by reducing transportation, abating landfill emissions, and replacing fossil fuel use.
Spiffy: That’s interesting you are talking about food waste, Alex. We’ve had a number of entrepreneurs that have mentioned this issue. What motivated you to tackle the effects of food waste?
Alex: I was motivated to start this company and continue pushing forward because of the positive impact this technology can have to fight climate change and increase access to low carbon technologies. Too much energy and too many resources go into producing food and managing its waste, and the current solutions out there are not sufficient. We see an opportunity to really make a difference and that is what continues to motivate me.
Spiffy: What kind of difference do you think you and your company will be able to make?
Alex: First off, Electro-Active Technologies is registered as a public benefit corporation, and creating a more equitable world is a part of our vision for a clean energy future for everyone. We are striving to develop this technology as a local-urban solution to retain the benefits within communities, at a price that is competitive with fossil fuels, and enhance the availability of these impactful renewable energy solutions.
Spiffy: Have you had any recent successes you can tell me about?
Alex: Electro-Active Technologies recently raised $1.4M as part of a seed round, which really validates the progress we have made so far. It also gives us the ability to continue to push this technology toward commercialization. With these funds, we have developed a beta prototype, integrating reactor design improvements as well as process control hardware and software to demonstrate our process for converting food waste into hydrogen.
Co-founders Alex Lewis and Abhijeet Borole with their prototype at the IndieBio accelerator. (Photo courtesy of Alex Lewis)
Spiffy: Wow, that’s amazing Alex. I’m always curious about the difficulties that are encountered. Did you experience any types of failures along the way?
Alex: In the company’s early stages, we pursued grant after grant but were unsuccessful in securing funding to advance our technology. Instead of giving up, we refocused and applied to accelerators, pitch competitions and other sources of funding. We found that clean tech accelerators and certain private sources of capital shared our vision of impact. Amazingly, this path also allowed us to learn far more, and advance the technology faster, than we ever could have through grants. Failures offer a great opportunity to learn lessons and improve, if you take the right perspective.
Spiffy: That’s exactly it, Alex. Failures can lead to amazing opportunities and lessons. Are there any other interesting lessons you’ve learned lately?
Alex: I am a pretty optimistic person in most situations and believe there is good in everyone, but this can lead to problems when dealing in business. Something my two dogs, Roan and Luna, have taught me is that it is okay to question people as you meet and interact with them — sniffing them out. It is important to learn and research things properly, and not over extend your trust before it’s been earned or demonstrated as you go forward with a business relationship.
Spiffy: That’s a great way to put it, Alex — sniffing new people out. You seem to have learned quite a bit over a short amount of time.
Alex: You’re right, Spiffy. We know that the path we have taken is difficult — but essential — to bring the kind of change this world really needs. Transforming from a mining to landfill model, to a circular model, is necessary for a cleaner, brighter future. This is what we aspire to bring to humanity, using the lessons our green planet has taught us. Reducing GHGs from food waste and transportation is key to impacting the threat that climate change poses — and we are ready to take action towards this important SDG target.
Spiffy: The Earth has so much to teach us! Thank you for taking the time to share this phenomenal lesson with us, Alex!
Alex Lewis is co-founder and CEO of Electro-Active Technologies, a company working to power cities with waste. Alex earned his PhD in Energy Science and Engineering from the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he, and co-founder Dr. Abhijeet Borole, developed the company technology. (Nominated by Indiebio | SOSV)