Lalit Chordia always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He didn’t know he would be an entrepreneur in Pittsburgh. Originally from India, he planned to go back, but started his first company as a student at Carnegie Mellon University. When he got married, he told his wife, “We will leave Pittsburgh.” Today, he jokes that 25 years later, he’s still leaving Pittsburgh.
His companies over the years have used the same technology — supercritical fluids — which in simplistic terms means pressurized carbon dioxide. Chordia says it’s used as a solvent, as a fluid to analyze pharmaceuticals and for heat transfer.
“We are in a number of different industries, but the base technology is the same — applications are completely different. So, we spin out separate companies to make sure each company has a focus,” he says.
Thar Instruments was sold in 2009. Thar Pharmaceuticals was sold in 2016. Chordia remains the president and CEO of two main companies, Thar Process Inc. and Thar Energy LLC, that employ about 50 people between them.
Thar Process is a production-scale supplier of supercritical fluid equipment and technology. Customers buy hardware to produce natural oils, flavors, fragrances, hemp cannabidiol, etc.
Thar Process also has extraction capabilities, where companies send materials that Thar processes for them. The 25,000-square-foot building serves as a demonstration site, too. Chordia estimates his Pittsburgh facility is the largest producer of Astaxanthin — an antioxidant from algae — in the U.S.
Thar Energy, on the other hand, received a $10 million grant to help the U.S. Department of Energy develop a heat exchanger. The goal is to replace water in steam power plants with CO2 to make the equipment smaller, more efficient and drive down the costs.
Rather than build power plants, Thar Energy hopes to take its DOE research and build small systems. They could connect to a home’s natural gas to generate electricity at a higher efficiency.
“The effect of what we do has been significant to the economy. We have created, directly and indirectly, over 1,000 jobs in this area,” Chordia says of Thar’s work.
Pivot toward success
When you have many things going on, it’s critical to pick and choose. What you thought was the right product often turns out to be something else, Chordia says.
“If you don’t understand when to pivot, you’re going to continue down the road and you will hit a dead end,” he says.