Aether has announced a $49 million Series A funding round to, it says, power the next industrial revolution by helping extract rare metals and create new materials, leading to a more resource-efficient and sustainable future.
The funding will be used to scale its platform and grow the company’s engineering, machine learning and hardware teams, Aether says.
Pavle Jeremic, CEO and founder of Aether, said: “Nature invented nano-scale machinery called proteins that can move and rearrange atoms. At Aether, we’re engineering these proteins to go beyond what nature intended to assemble new classes of molecules, transforming proteins into generalised molecular assemblers. Applications range from critical mineral extraction to the assembly of novel classes of materials with unprecedented properties.
“In the long term, these assemblers will enable the construction of effectively any product at extremely low costs.”
Aether’s Molecular Assembler Platform combines high-throughput robotics, machine learning and synthetic biology to map millions of enzyme-reaction combinations. By generating experimental data, the platform is able to engineer entirely new classes of nanoscale machines using protein building blocks called molecular assemblers, Aether says.
Trevor Zimmerman, co-founder and Managing Partner at Unless, one of the companies behind the recent funding, said: “Aether’s revolutionary platform builds upon nature’s machinery to deliver solutions that are cheaper, faster and greener than any current technology or process on the market. Current enzyme technologies are limited to catalysing natural-like reactions while Aether’s enzyme application space is far greater – unlocking enzymatic pathways to high-value chemicals that don’t have a natural pathway. For example, lithium complexation.”
While Aether’s assemblers can be used to create new molecules, they can also be used to extract molecules, such as metals. To do so, Aether’s molecular assemblers are introduced to a brine where they bond only to specified metal atoms, regardless of the concentration, the company explains. From there, Aether programs these assemblers to release the element into a new solution – one that is now highly concentrated with atoms of the specified element and void of other contaminants and unwanted materials. The company’s initial emphasis is on lithium, with plans to extract additional metals in the future, such as rare earth metals, titanium and other critical minerals.
By using its molecular assemblers, Aether says it can extract lithium from previously untapped sources – increasing domestic production by 30 times. Additionally, because this process takes place via a closed-loop system without the use of harsh chemicals, virtually any water used in the process can be safely returned to the source, requiring 50,000 times less water than evaporative methods used in South America’s so-called Lithium Triangle.
Aether says it will initially focus its lithium extraction efforts in the southern, middle portions of USA, including Oklahoma and Arkansas, where subterranean lithium exists in sizeable amounts but at lower concentrations. Texas and Oklahoma will also be key areas of focus given the company’s unique ability to extract lithium from oil and gas wastewater byproducts, as well as capped oil wells.