Two Brazilian women are the founders of the CleanTech winner of LatamEdge 2022 with their innovative solution replacing plastics.
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The challenge of putting together a company such as #Biopolix in a market filled with manufacturers (transformers) that are already consolidated in the field of fossil-based resins and chemical industries that have not yet adapted to current sustainability standards is not easy, but still, the space for opportunity and innovation is immense.
Data shows the astronomical size of what they are facing up – only 1% of the plastic produced worldwide is biodegradable, therefore, there is room for plenty of growth within this market, which has already been valued at US$ 10 billion globally. Products such as Biopolix’s resin can be discarded in regular landfills – and not only in industrial landfills, which are few and far between in Brazil. This is due to the fact that its time of decomposition is much faster in comparison to traditional plastics, as well as having zero environmental impact thanks to its biopolymeric composition, which means it is made up of different renewable source materials, such as protein from soy, corn, potato and manioc amids and many more such as bacterial biopolymers.
Dra Claire Tondo Vendruscolo, with 25 years of experience in academic research in the field of bioplastics, author of multiple academic and scientific articles published worldwide, and her daughter, Luisa Vendruscolo, a business manager, have been dedicating themselves to structuring the Biopolix startup since 2016, guided by the purpose of developing solutions that would enable us to minimise the current pollution caused by conventional plastics, replacing them with a bio-resin produced through renewable sources, called Biox001, which would allow the production of flexible and hard bioplastics that are 100% compostable and biodegradable.
If we take into consideration the fact that traditional plastics take around four centuries to decompose in a natural environment, as well as producing toxic gases during the combustion process and having a difficult recycling process (since different types of plastics cannot be recycled together), it is easy to understand the importance of Biopolix in the current market.
“Our dream was to produce these materials on a large scale. After six years, we already have two POCs with big companies” says Luisa.
Biopolix’s business started through Luisa and Claire’s own investment and their participation in governmental fundings without equity. They received over R$ 1 million (around US$ 500,000 ) in funding. With SENAI ISI POLIMEROS they developed biofilms, and with SENAI Mario Amato SP, hard materials. On an EMBRAPII project, the company created an ice cream spoon that is completely compostable and biodegradable. Incubators such as Supera and the awards that Biopolix won were also fundamental for the structured development of the company.
"We are more than ready to move forward in the national and international markets. With the development and patent request for the Biox001 bio-resin, both here in Brazil and internationally, we have started our search for partners. The focus on goals geared towards reducing the use of fossil fuel plastics by industries in all fields has been aiding Biopolix in the process of promoting this new solution" affirms Claire.
The companies’ priority at this moment is increasing their access to manufacturers demanding flexible and hard bioplastics, and whose specific focus is on single-use plastic, especially disposable items that are being banned by several countries that are looking to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such as cutlery, secondary packaging and disposable protections.
"As well as bio-resin we have developed a bio-adhesive to be used by dentists, called BATs – an anaesthetic, topic bio-adhesive with a controlled release which can be used as a pre-anaesthetic before the anaesthesia. The product already has a patent in the United States and Brazil” says Claire, adding that there is, also, a biodegradable bio-polymer, xantana pruni, being utilised as a thickener, stabiliser and base for the drainage and viscosity of materials. It is already heavily utilised within the food and cosmetic industries, and also has the potential of being applied to the agricultural business.
The research journey
The research field is considered to be very hard, as it takes a long time to yield results – however, when data is gathered and can be applied, products utilising these new technologies have long-lasting market durability, which allows researchers to recover the capital invested.
The first challenges faced by these entrepreneurs were related to surpassing the barrier limiting the development of new materials, and gaining access to extremely expensive pieces of equipment, be those for research or manufacture. So, the first step of their journey was to seek out investments to support the development of the materials, followed by taking part in funding contests (which have an extremely slow turnover time). “After this, we had to find personnel with experience, as well as taking care of maintaining the startup while simultaneously talking to the market, which is unsure about what it wants.
The market wants to innovate but is not sure where, or is not aware of wha will be the impact of these materials on their business” Luisa comments, adding that explaining to the market what is a bio-resin and what it improves for the end-customer is a long process, and will continue to be present throughout their journey.
Once that phase has passed, Biopolix has started to look for large-scale investors or partnering companies acting in the field of plastic or who own the necessary equipment for producing the Biox001 bio-resin, so that Biopolix is able to build an industrial plant, as well as hire staff with experience in extrusion (parallel double-screw extruder) and experienced in analysing biodegradable products, specifically those knowledgeable of international laws and regulations. The funding goal is between R$ 2M and R$ 5M (circa US$376,000 and US$ 941,000), and this money will also serve to amplify their ability to manufacture in a less horizontal manner, so they can gain traction and offer more competitive pricing.
"Our international expansion is also another fundamental step since we observe that investment decisions and even ESG regulations are ruled by the international boards of directors in multinational companies. That is why, for us, internationalisation is a way to get closer to the decision-makers behind structural changes and to boost the income and growth of our company faster” says Luisa.
After this phase, the pair of entrepreneurs, believes that Biopolix will be able to contribute significantly to the reduction of plastic waste, which has been impacting our flora and fauna, as well as human beings, very negatively. Once companies have been presented, with data showcasing the true negative impact being made on the environment, bio-resins will certainly enter the scene as a strong and positive alternative, both for the market and the world.
What makes Biopolix stand out
"Our strategy was testing the bio-resin within the current industries that process traditional plastics and analysing the existing pieces of equipment, listening intently to our potential customers. Therefore we were able to identify working conditions, as well as ranges for speed, temperature and other specifications that are relevant to the process, such as sealing the packaging, cutting, etc. and from there, develop a scalable material without needing to adapt the machinery, one of the main gaps faced by biomaterials” says Claire, adding that the knowledge gained from over 20 years of experience in biodegradable macromolecules capable of forming scaffolding films with controlled release active ingredients, and the enormous amount of information she gathered about bacteria and their use in aerobic fermentation, made all difference .