UP Catalyst

UP Catalyst

“Carbon nanomaterials made sustainably”

UP Catalyst

Estonia-based start-up UP Catalyst has developed electrochemical transformation technology to produce different types of carbon nanomaterials from CO2. As a result, the start-up is able to utilize CO2 emissions and prevent their release into the atmosphere, which contributes to their process being more sustainable than commonly used technologies for producing carbon nanomaterials with high carbon footprint. For these reasons, UP Catalyst, who is also the ISC3 Innovation Challenge Winner for 2020/21, has been chosen as our Start-up of the Month for March 2022.

Year of Foundation:


Addresses the following SDGs:

SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action)


Stage with the Logo of UP on a beamer screen.
Head of Innovation and R&D Einar Karu pitching at Nordic CleanTech Open in Malmö, Sweden (November 2021) which UP Catalyst ended up winning.
two men at a standing desk representing UP Catalysts
CEO Gary Urb and Head of Innovation and R&D Einar Karu presenting the company at sTARTUp Day in Tartu, Estonia (August 2021)
Two guys in protective clothes
CEO Gary Urb and Head of Innovation and R&D Einar Karu testing the synthesis reactor elements
Group picture of Team
UP Catalyst’s team

From idea to successful start-up

The idea of UP Catalyst started in 2016, when Dr Ivar Kruusenberg (board member) and Dr Sander Ratso (CTO), who had been doing research in the development of carbon nanomaterials-based catalysts for fuel cell applications, started to look for possible ways to make it a business case. They were joined by Dr Gary Urb, who like his co-founders, has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Tartu, as well as industry experience from large European corporates. There he worked as CTO, which helped him on his own entrepreneurial journey to understand how corporates and businesses are organized and managed, as well as the bottlenecks. As a result, they founded UP Catalyst in 2019, as the name of the start-up indicates, focusing on the catalyst materials for fuel cell applications. They began by applying for competitions to pitch their idea and succeeded in the EIT Raw Materials Jumpstarter in 2019, and they have been collecting awards since then. In that way, UP Catalyst´s founders were able to build their company step by step without any investor support and are now further growing and attracting the attention of investors as well.

Sustainable carbon nanomaterials

UP Catalyst has developed electrochemical transformation technology to produce different types of carbon nanomaterials with various applications, such as carbon nanotubes, carbon nanospheres, carbon nanofibers, graphite, and graphene. One of the applications, as mentioned above, is as a catalyst material for fuel cells which are used in hydrogen fuel cell-based generators, for example. Furthermore, UP Catalyst is targeting applications in the battery and supercapacitor industries, which use a large amount of carbon materials as conductive additives, and graphene can increase the recharging speed and energy capacity of batteries, while also protecting them from the formation of dendrites (branch-like filaments that form on the electrodes of the battery) which is the main cause of overheating and failure. On top of that, the global battery market, particularly in Europe, is growing rapidly – over 145M electric cars are excepted to run the global streets by 2030, which is a surge from 10M cars today. UP Catalyst provides sustainable carbon nanomaterials using molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET) method to reprocess CO2 from heavy industry emitters. The start-up can connect their technology directly with the CO2-emitting factory, which is also more economically sustainable, as they do not have to collect and transport CO2.
“Unlike most current methods for producing carbon nanomaterials, which have a high carbon footprint,”
Gary explained,
“UpCatalyst's technology only requires electricity for their electrochemical synthesis processes”,
and they focus on renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro energy. Aside from that, the CO2 absorption makes the product carbon negative. UP Catalyst also produces dispersed carbon materials for use in battery and coating industries, such as production of antistatic coatings, as the powder form is not always suitable for every application. In addition, using a simple pyrolysis process, UP Catalyst has developed a method for producing nanoporous biocarbons from wood-based biomass such as wood chips and lignin. These materials have very high surface area and are ideal for supercapacitor applications, for example.

Next steps at UP Catalyst

The startup is working on scaling up their technology to an industrial scale, with a focus on battery manufacturers, but also on other customers in the coatings, plastics, tire, and concrete industries. UP Catalyst operates mainly on the European market but has overseas contacts in countries such as Japan or South Korea as well. They also collaborate with some startups who are developing batteries, supercapacitors, new technology-based coatings, and new types of concrete. UP Catalyst collaborates with several research institutes and universities as well.

“Without cross European collaboration we can't survive. So, we have to develop further and develop our products while making strong connections with industry experts and world-renowned academic institutions.”

UP Catalyst, who joined the ISC3 Global Start-up Service in October 2019 and won the ISC3 Innovation Challenge 2020/21 in Sustainable Chemistry and Renewable Energies, contributes with its innovation to SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), and SDG 13 (climate action).