India's Tata invests in MIT spin-off Sun Catalytix

Sun Catalytix, which is seeking to develop a cheap, solar-powered fuel cell, gets a $9.5 million investment led by Indian conglomerate Tata.

Sun Catalytix, a start-up developing a low-cost catalyst for hydrogen-based energy system, said today that Indian industrial conglomerate Tata has invested in the company.

Tata and Sun Catalytix's current investor, venture capital firm Polaris Ventures, put $9.5 million into the start-up in its series B round of funding.

The investment will allow Sun Catalytix to develop prototypes of its energy system, Daniel Nocera, the MIT professor who developed the technology and founded the company, said in a statement.

A diagram of how the Sun Catalytix fuel cell could be powered by solar panels.
A diagram of how the Sun Catalytix fuel cell could be powered by solar panels. MIT

Nocera's research has focused on designing a catalyst made of inexpensive materials to break off hydrogen from water. Sun Catalytix envisions distributed energy where hydrogen is created by splitting water at people's homes and fed into fuel cells to make electricity

The company says that solar panels can power the water-splitting electrolyzer that makes hydrogen. Such an approach would make it a very clean energy system.

The investment from Tata, which is focused on IT, energy, and consumer products, is a vote of confidence in the technology and the company, which Nocera spun off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008.

Early tests of the catalyst have been promising, company executives have said. Still, commercializing the research into a marketable product is challenging, given that it relies on a number of technical components and needs a distribution channel.

A fuel cell could be used in a number of applications. In a talk at MIT last year, Nocera hoped that the technology would be used as an energy system in the developing world.

Sun Catalytix raised $3 million from Polaris Ventures last November and has sought federal research loans.

Updated at 12:50 p.m. PT with corrections to technology description.