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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Biobased Microbeads, Flexible Foams Could Offer Renewable Materials for Hundreds of Products

TerraVerdae BioWorks, an industrial biotechnology company developing advanced bioplastics and environmentally sustainable biomaterials, announced Monday that it has successfully achieved key milestones for the commercial production for its line of Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)-based biomaterials. These include 10,000-liter production runs of its line of biodegradable, natural microspheres for use in personal care and cosmetic products. TerraVerdae’s biobased beads are being primed as a direct replacement for the non-degradable polyethylene microbeads that brands including L'Oréal, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and P&G have taken steps to remove from their products after studies linked the beads to water pollution and ecosystem disruption in the Great Lakes.

Supported by a grant from Innovate UK, and in collaboration with researchers at facilities in the UK’s Centre for Process Innovation, TerraVerdae says it has successfully scaled-up its biodegradable and biocompatible materials technology from laboratory pilot scale to 10,000+-liter capabilities, validating process scale up and production economics for commercial deployment.

“Developing the technologies needed to produce commercial scale quantities of our biomaterial products in an economic and efficient process is a milestone for the company, and potentially the industry,” said William Bardosh, CEO and founder of TerraVerdae BioWorks. “Our first product developed using this technology, biodegradable and biocompatible microspheres to replace synthetic microbeads in personal care products, addresses a strong global need to remove plastic contamination from water supplies.”

“We are also fortunate to have collaborated on this technology with the UK’s Centre for Process Innovation,” Bardosh continued. “They are one of the world’s leading facilities for process innovation in the industrial bioprocess arena and their support has been invaluable.”

‘’The project with TerraVerdae has been a great opportunity for us to collaborate with a pioneer in the industry,” said Pete Carney, Business Development Manager at The Centre for Process Innovation. “CPI has used its bioprocessing scale up expertise to take the process from lab scale to commercialization.’’

TerraVerdae’s microspheres are a PHA-based biomaterial produced using a non-GMO, non-toxic, plant-associated process. The company says they are intrinsically biocompatible and meet industry standards for biodegradation in a marine environment. TerraVerdae can produce microspheres in a range of sizes, in both smooth and coarse finishes, that feature high optical clarity and the mechanical characteristics to meet all requirements for cosmetic formulations.

PHA could be a potential game-changer for reducing plastic pollution for multiple industries: In 2013, Italian biotech firm Bio-on announced it had developed a PHA from agricultural processing waste materials that can be used as a substrate for electric circuits. When combined with suitable nanofillers, the polymer can act as an electricity conductor, with the potential of replacing plastics in most electronics. The company said the use of PHAs can help put a dent in the 50 million tons of waste produced worldwide every year from discarded smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronics.

Also on Monday, Algix LLC, the world’s leading producer of algae-based products, and product and material development company Effekt LLC announced the creation of the world’s first algae-derived flexible foams. The companies are launching a joint venture called Bloom Holdings LLC to commercialize the foam.

“Flexible foams have been overwhelmingly made out of non-renewable petrochemicals for decades,” says Rob Falken, Managing Director of Effekt and Bloom Holdings. “Over the past year we’ve worked really hard to create a suitable algae biomass alternative that doesn’t compromise performance and that delivers tried–and–true characteristics for all sorts of demanding applications.”

The foam is produced in a patented process that utilizes Algix’s dried, GMO-free algae biomass, which is solely collected from waste streams across the US and Asia. Algal blooms have become prevalent worldwide due to a rise in global temperatures and a subsequent increase in water temperatures. They’ve also been impacted by increased human population growth and from activities such as overfishing, which have increased nutrient loading in waterways.

As a feedstock, algae biomass is a non-food resource, requiring no pesticides to grow and is found in abundance globally. This ensures a consistent and stable raw material supply for years to come.

“We are literally turning a negative into a positive,” Falken said.

“Bloom Holdings has a strong commitment to being a values-driven organization. We want to help make more sustainable product options an accessible and easy choice,” says Mike Van Drunen, co-founder and CEO of Algix and a Managing Member of Bloom Holdings.

Bloom Holdings LLC says it has secured an independent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for the flexible foams, as well as numerous certificates of environmental validation.

Bloom says manufacturing of the new flexible foam — aptly called BLOOM™ — will commence in early 2016 in both the US and Asia. The company says BLOOM™ will be ideal for use in footwear, yoga mats, sporting goods and toys.

Speaking of algae, researchers from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have been experimenting with ways to make ethylene production less toxic to the environment, and last week announced they are finding success with the help of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). NREL’s Photobiology Group says it has been able to create ethylene — a cheap hydrocarbon made using petroleum and natural gas that is a building block for many types of conventional plastic — directly from genetically modified algae.


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