Potsdam startup company wants to turn hemp into batteries
Sunday, January 17, 2016 - 8:34 am


POTSDAM -- A new start-up company is one step closer to establishing a manufacturing facility that uses hemp to create materials used in batteries, following receipt of a $229,000 state grant.

CQuest Partners, LLC was recently awarded the funding through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. The cash will help the company establish a research and development facility in the Potsdam area, with an end game of establishing an additional manufacturing facility in Ogdensburg or Massena.

Co-founded by Clarkson University Professor David Mitlin, Gary Charboneau and David Charboneau, the small startup plans to produce carbon nanosheets (CNS) from organic materials that could be used to make efficient batteries and super capacitors. A super capacitor is a like a battery that allows for faster transfer of energy. They are used in devices like pacemakers.

The intellectual property was developed by Mitlin and has the potential to replace the more expensive to produce, but widely used material graphene, which has become common in batteries.

Massive Market Possible

Mitlin’s carbon nanosheets have qualities similar to graphene but the sheets are much cheaper to make. With a global move toward renewable energy, Mitlin believes there will be a massive market for inexpensive batteries produced from organic materials.

“We will produce highly value-added carbons for energy and environmental applications, based on several unique and patented technologies. Our first product will be a hemp fiber-derived Carbon NanoSheet. We plan to sell it for super capacitor and battery applications, as well as for water and air purification,” he said. “Later we will have a range of additional carbon offerings for a variety of end-uses.

Mitlin says the business model is "Graphene performance at activated carbon prices."

“Any application where graphene is desirable but is too costly, our CNS would be a great substitute,” he said.

Science magazines and new organizations alike have reported on Mitlin’s technology widely. In a 2014 interview with the BBC, Mitlin explained why hemp fiber is an ideal material to work with.

“It's a waste product looking for a value-added application. People are almost paying you to take it away,” he said.

Mitlin said he and his partners envision a research and development facility in Potsdam as well as a manufacturing plant located in Ogdensburg or Massena. He said the North Country is an ideal location for the business due to its abundant land for agriculture, proximity to Canada, access to the Seaway and the nearby universities.

Hemp Illegal in NYS

One hang-up with hemp as key component is that it needs to be shipped in from other countries. That’s because it’s currently illegal to grow in New York. But Mitlin says the material can be imported from Canada where it is legal to grow for commercial use.

Mitlin said some states, particularly those that are legalizing marijuana, are also likely to begin selling manufacturing hemp. With New York’s recent decision to legalize medicinal marijuana, it’s possible that could happen here as well. Mitlin acknowledged that in the future it may even be possible to purchase the byproduct from New York’s licensed marijuana growers.

He also believes growing hemp could be profitable for the area’s farmers, especially if he and his partners are successful in establishing a manufacturing plant near the Seaway.

Mitlin says the Empire State Development funds will allow the company to take step toward that goal.

“We plan to start manufacturing as early as March, but this in large part depends on the funding situation,” he said. “We are already in contact with potential customers in the renewable energy storage industry, including several with easily recognizable household name.”

Mitlin says he is confident that CQuest will be successful in opening a plant capable of producing the material in measurements of tons.

“The business will be split into a manufacturing branch and R&D branch. Nominally the manufacturing will be in Massena or Ogdensburg, while the R&D lab will be in Potsdam near Clarkson,” he said.

“We will manufacture ton quantities of the carbons, which will employ a dozen or so individuals in differing roles.”