Cole is cofounder and chief science officer of Liquid Light. The startup is pioneering a process to convert carbon dioxide gas into a chemical that can be used to make consumer products.
She founded the startup in 2009 and immediately got to work developing technology to capture carbon dioxide and recycle it.
"Right now, waste carbon dioxide is captured and sequestered," said Cole. This means the gas is collected from facilities like industrial plants or manufacturing sites, compressed in pipelines and then injected into rock formations deep underground.
"Instead of storing it, we're utilizing it and converting it into something of value," she said.
Liquid Light is the first company that's developed a catalyst (a combination of water, sunlight, electricity and other chemicals) to make other chemicals out of carbon dioxide.
"We take carbon dioxide from its source [like power plants or factories], add water and electricity to it, and create liquid fuels and chemicals such as ethylene glycol and glycolic acid," said Cole.
Those chemicals could eventually replace petroleum in everyday consumer products like plastic bottles, carpets, antifreeze, even facial creams.
The benefits are manifold: "We reduce our dependence on petroleum, which is not renewable," said Cole. "We make these products with lower carbon dioxide emissions and we can possibly lower the production costs."