A promising energy start-up gets a boost from NYU Tandon

When Marissa Beatty, the CEO of Turnover Labs, was named to the 2024 Forbes “30 under 30” list, the publication praised her start-up’s efforts to move the chemical industry away from its reliance on petroleum-based chemical building blocks by providing carbon-neutral alternatives forged out of CO2 and renewable electricity. “Her goal is to build the ‘tractor’ of electrolysis: a system that can perform reliably under harsh conditions, with limited maintenance, for several years,” Forbes explained. “Instead of using the fanciest, highest-performing materials possible, she prioritized longevity and resilience. This approach has yielded electrolyzers that have a 500% increase in their lifetime and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency.” All of this is to say that her systems have the advantage of being a cheaper and more practical way to synthesize sustainable chemicals for industrial customers, and decrease the “green premium” associated with sustainable chemicals manufacturing.  

Even with attention from high-profile media outlets and generous seed funding, when your goal is this ambitious — Turnover is  setting their sights high by designing a system that can scale to consume 10,000 tons of industrially emitted CO2 per year — there are roadblocks involved in establishing a new venture.

That’s where NYU Tandon and Miguel Modestino, the school’s Donald F. Othmer Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and the inaugural director of NYU Tandon’s Sustainable Engineering Initiative, come in. Last year, Modestino — recognizing that young entrepreneurs whose work involves chemical processes face enormous burdens, since the wet benches and fume hoods they need are expensive and not readily accessible to most — decided to open his lab facilities to select start-ups working on decarbonization. “Partnering with promising start-ups is a win-win situation; founders gain access to a highly specialized suite of equipment and input from experienced faculty members, and our students are well-positioned to take advantage of internship and hands-on learning opportunities,” he said at the time.

Beatty — who earned her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University in 2022 — aware of his offer thanks to a fortuitous series of connections: her mentor and the company’s technical advisor, Professor Dan Esposito, had recently co-authored a paper with Modestino. In addition to that, Beatty had just been accepted into the inaugural New York City climate cohort of the Activate Fellowship, an initiative in which Modestino was involved, aimed at helping scientists commercialize their research. 

“Just finding the lab space with the appropriate equipment would have been a real boon to us, but it goes even beyond that,” she says. “Professor Modestino is committed to doing things in a very start-up friendly manner, making the process very simple and quick for us to follow without legal counsel, and without imposing onerous financial burdens on us. Those hurdles alone have been insurmountable to many start-ups, so I’m very grateful to him and NYU Tandon for supporting us. Add to that the benefits of being in New York City, the epicenter of climate tech, and you’ll understand how this is a game-changer for Turnover.”