At USC’s Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, researcher Zhiyao Lu discovered a way to convert glycerol into something valuable: sodium lactate. Used in the food processing industry, the market for this non-toxic, environmentally friendly chemical is $1.5 billion and growing. Lu patented a catalyst for the reaction, and he and Professor Travis Williams licensed the technology through the USC Stevens Center for Innovation.
They launched Catapower Inc., and their business model earned them the 2018 USC Wrigley Sustainability Prize, which supports environmental ideas from within the USC community that have market potential. That win spurred their successful application to the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, an incubator that helps researchers turn their ideas into businesses. They worked on the technology for two months at I-Corps’ Southwest site in Texas.