Aaron joins Breakthrough Energy’s Innovator Fellows program from Mars Materials in Oakland, California. Aaron began his career working in government before becoming an entrepreneur focusing on carbon removal, technology transfer and venture capital. At Mars Materials, Aaron and his team are commercializing a technique, nitrilation, that transforms captured CO2 emissions into a compound that is used to produce low-cost, low-carbon materials for industrial use.
Mars Materials’ nitrilation solution transforms captured CO2 into acrylonitrile (ACN)—the main building block in carbon fiber, a material used in hundreds of everyday products from textiles to electronics. While conventional methods for ACN production result in toxic byproducts, water and non-toxic alcohols are the only byproducts of Mars Materials’ technology. Additionally, nitrilation plants are 57% cheaper to build and have 31% less process emissions compared to existing approaches. At scale, this solution will enable widespread use of carbon fiber in new industrial markets like the vehicle sector. Through the Fellows program, Mars Materials will optimize its technology in preparation for building a first-of-its-kind demonstration plant.
Aaron holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, with a concentration in International Business from Rhodes College. He completed entrepreneur in residence fellowships with Carbon180, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s LabStart, and Prime Coalition.
Who has had the greatest impact on your career path?
In my childhood, failure often meant tough consequences. During my sophomore year at Rhodes College, I met Professor Dee Birnbaum. Professor Birnbaum helped me figure out how I learn. She encouraged me to feel, fail and figure it out. Her instruction gave me the space and courage to live freely. Professor Birnbaum’s lessons -to follow intuition and passion, to embrace failure, and to use data and reason to innovate your way out of failure -serves me as an entrepreneur well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
As a child, when my sisters and I felt like giving up our mom would gently say “nothing hurts failure like a try.”The words continue to motivate me today. Whenever I feel defeated, they remind me to persevere and see what I start through to the end.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Outside of carbon removal work, I explore my other passions such as practicing martial arts, plant caretaking, and helping to improve people’s lives in my communities. I started Fitz’s Startup Shop, where I provide hands-on business mentorship to black women, queer people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
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