Catapower – Converting vegetable oil into eco-friendly fuel and plastics

Catapower – Converting vegetable oil into eco-friendly fuel and plastics


Name: Catapower

Legal Name: CataPower Inc

Location: Los Angeles, California

Founded: November 2018

Founder(s): Zhiyao (Yao) Lu and Travis Williams


Industry: Global Renewable Fuel Market

Size: $928B in 2017 (Source: Allied Market Research)

Future: $1,512B by 2025 (Source: Allied Market Research)


Catapower is an LA-based startup is dedicated to the creation of renewable fuels and sustainable plastics. It seeks to enable the development of the economy without compromising on the environment, by converting used vegetable oil into biodiesel and polyester (polylactic acid). 

The Product

The startup harnesses a molecular robot to upgrade used vegetable oil (from fryers) into renewable fuels and biodegradable plastic. And it does so, with near-perfect material utilization.

The renewable fuel, biodiesel, can be used in heavy equipment, airplanes, trucks, and power generators. Yet it’s not easily available owing to its high cost of production. Catapower fixes this cost barrier with advanced technology. The second product the process results in is a biodegradable plastic that is used in disposables and medical devices. 

According to USC News, they are now working with the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, to create a product demo.

Origin and Founding Team

Zhiyao (Yao) Lu, a Ph.D. in chemistry from USC, felt the urgent need to make the world more inhabitable by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste. So, for five years, he and other USC students worked towards achieving this goal. 

“After developing and testing many generations of different catalysts, we finally arrived at this one — a molecular machine,” said Lu to USC News . “It works millions of times with high precision, very selectively converting the glycerol waste into lactate, while producing biodiesel.”

This marked the genesis of Catapower.

In July 2017, they decided to commercialize their robotic technology. And in March 2018, they won the Wrigley Sustainability Prize for this innovation. Soon after, this test-tube stage startup even qualified for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

“When I first started the research, I purely looked at it as an academic research problem,” Lu said to the Daily Trojan. “Then, I realized there is great market potential and I wanted to know what people think of the technology, what customers really need.”

Together with his business partner, Travis Williams, Lu began to scout for customers, partners, and investors in August 2018. But it was a tough sell, as companies were unwilling to change their existing processes and adopt completely new technology. 

But, as told to Daily Trojan, they eventually lucked out and hope to secure large contracts that will be deployed by 2019.

Performance and Trends

According to Pitchbook, Catapower was part of the VentureWell accelerator. And in March 2018, Catapower won the Wrigley Sustainability Prize to secure a grant of $7K.

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