Venture Capital

Aether Lands $49 Million Series A

SAN FRANCISCO — Aether has announced a $49 million Series A led by Natural Capital and Unless to power the next industrial revolution by helping extract rare metals and create new materials, leading to a more resource-efficient and sustainable future. The funding will be used to scale its platform and grow the company’s engineering, machine learning, and hardware teams.

“Nature invented nanoscale machinery called proteins that can move and rearrange atoms. At Aether, we’re engineering these proteins to go beyond what nature intended to assemble new classes of molecules, transforming proteins into generalized molecular assemblers. Applications range from critical mineral extraction to the assembly of novel classes of materials with unprecedented properties,” said Pavle Jeremic, CEO and founder of Aether. “In the long term, these assemblers will enable the construction of effectively any product at extremely low costs.”

How does Aether’s Molecular Assembler Platform work?

The platform combines high-throughput robotics, machine learning, and synthetic biology to map millions of enzyme-reaction combinations. By generating unprecedented amounts of experimental data, the platform is able to engineer entirely new classes of nanoscale machines using protein building blocks called molecular assemblers. These molecular assemblers contain the power and sophistication of gigantic chemical factories, but on the scale of nanometers.

“Aether’s revolutionary platform builds upon nature’s machinery to deliver solutions that are cheaper, faster, and greener than any current technology or process on the market,” said Trevor Zimmerman, co-founder and managing partner at Unless. “Current enzyme technologies are limited to catalyzing natural-like reactions while Aether’s enzyme application space is far greater – unlocking enzymatic pathways to high-value chemicals that don’t have a natural pathway. For example, lithium complexation.”

How does the platform create new materials?

These assemblers can synthesize new products with greater strength, flexibility, and chemical resistance. An example use case is in the defense industry, where Aether’s novel materials can dramatically increase the effectiveness and elasticity of ballistic materials, such as Kevlar-like products. Another example is combining the materials with industrial plastics like PEEK to improve processability, strength, and flexibility.

How does the platform extract metals?

While Aether’s assemblers can be used to create new molecules, they can also be used to extract molecules, such as metals. To do so, Aether’s molecular assemblers are introduced to a brine where they bond only to specified metal atoms, regardless of the concentration. From there, Aether programs these assemblers to release the element into a new solution – one that is now highly concentrated with atoms of the specified element and void of other contaminants and unwanted materials. The company’s initial emphasis is on lithium, with plans to extract additional metals in the future, such as rare earth metals, titanium, and other critical minerals.

Aether’s extraction process also eliminates the need for costly infrastructure that takes years to build, relying instead on portable, modular, shipping containers where the extraction and refinery occurs. With Aether, equipment can be deployed at unprecedented speeds while providing the unique ability to extract metals from previously inaccessible target metal reserves.

“Using machine learning with a real-time lab engine built into the training loop, Aether discovers novel enzymes and peptides that can functionally and effectively do many things – including the extraction of metals like lithium from brines and building flexible Kevlar-like material,” said Jay Zaveri, founder of Natural Capital and partner at Social Capital. “Aether is the future of manufacturing where things that were not thought possible with chemical engineering are now possible through the engineering of new classes of enzymes that do specific work with lower energy needs, cleaner processes, and fast scalable systems.”