citybiz+ Johns Hopkins Professor’s Etch Raises $6.5 Million

Etch, a six-year-old startup built on patents held by Johns Hopkins professor Jonah Erlebacher, has come out of stealth mode with a $6.5 million funding round by unnamed investors.

The Chevy Chase, Md.-based company has been cofounded by Erlebacher and John Fini, who helped commercialize intellectual property at Johns Hopkins University. Even as it emerged from years of secrecy, Etch is spare with details and has only a single-page website.

Etch seeks to commercialize an innovative chemical process to generate low-cost hydrogen by splitting natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon. Its cost advantage arises from two key technological breakthroughs. It does not require water, and produces little or no carbon dioxide, eliminating the need for so-called CCUS — carbon capture, utilization and storage.

“Hydrogen produced by the process has very low to zero carbon dioxide emissions, depending on the power source,” the company says on its website. The “simple, patented chemical process” can be powered by either natural gas, hydrogen, or electricity. Carbon generated by the process is pure and can be stored in environmentally benign facilities.

Holder of 6 Patents

Jonah Erlebacher is a professor in John Hopkins’ Department of Materials Science and Engineering since 2000, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He holds six patents for processes, including a key one to decompose methane into hydrogen and solid carbon. Other patents encompass creation of nanoporous gold leaf and advanced fuel cell catalysts.

Arguably best known for dealloying – selective dissolution from a multi-component material —Erlebacher is also credited with advances in materials for energy technologies, computational materials science and new manufacturing methods for nanostructured metals. Erlebacher received a BS in physics and history of art, summa cum laude, from Yale University, and a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University. In 2001, he won a

Faculty Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation.

Commercialization Guru

John Fini, who recently relocated to Carlsbad, Calif., has served as Etch’s CEO, according to his LinkedIn profile where he still does not name the stealth startup. Previously, he had a nearly eight-year stint at Johns Hopkins University, during which he held three key posts.

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He briefly oversaw Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ Commercialization Strategy Group in a newly created position of senior director. For over seven years, starting 2008, Fini was director of Homewood Intellectual Property Office, creating commercialization initiatives for the Whiting School of Engineering and the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences.

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“I was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the intellectual property portfolio, supervising the intellectual property docket,” he says in his LinkedIn profile.

Fini also was the founding director of FastForward Innovations, established to jump-start startup creation at John Hopkins. FastForward operates two accelerators and provides active mentoring support to startups. Fini says he has “mentored over 150 startups in multiple industries, as well as managed entrepreneurship programs at high technology and biotechnology incubators.”