With the SB Innovation Open finals taking place in just one week at SB ’15 San Diego, we wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the amazing sustainable startups competing this year. From saving paper with invisible ink to an “Expedia for restaurateurs,” this year’s crop of SBIO semi-finalists are set to revolutionize their respective industries.
Making Ethanol Like Making Beer Keeps Oil in the Ground
After 23 years in renewable energy and chemicals, including as VP of UOP, Dr. Jennifer Holmgren was inspired to become the CEO of LanzaTech. LanzaTech’s patented technology takes carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions, and pushes the gas through a patented reactor, converting it into ethanol. Seems impossible, doesn’t it?
Actually, Holmgren described the process as that of one similar to making beer. “With beer, you place yeast and sugar together so that it ferments and creates beer. Similarly, LanzaTech integrates itself into industrial facilities, where the output pipe leads directly into the patented reactor. Within the reactor, ”[LanzaTech] has an organism that ‘eats’ the carbon monoxide/dioxide and converts it into ethanol.” These organisms, naturally occurring in the hydrothermal vents of the ocean, have been selectively developed to optimize ethanol production. After the organisms process the gas, the end result is ethanol.
Carbon capture or recycling is often viewed as an added cost for companies, but with LanzaTech taking existing emissions from industrial factories, funneling it through the reactor, and turning it into ethanol, industrial facilities and companies now have a new product created from their emissions. Additionally, this is an exciting way to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, as these facilities will be producing their own ethanol.
“We feel that it is the best way to keep fossil carbon in the ground,” Holmgren said. “It is a different way, though we need many solutions to work for us to create a sustainable future.”
Now You See It Now You Don’t: Temporary Printing Saves Paper
After working in numerous startups as a mechanical engineer with a focus on medical devices, stents and angioplasty balloons, Carl Yee decided to spend some time with his kids. He couldn’t sit still for long, though, and ended up recalling the great amounts of waste involved with temporary printing. Hundreds and thousands of pieces of paper are wasted every year on copy paper, or documents that only need to be kept for temporary purposes. Yee decided to solve this problem by inventing Blue Planet Ink.
With little prior knowledge on the subject, and entirely bootstrapped, Yee studied up and created an ink that could print in any standard printer but would disappear after time, leaving the paper blank and ready for reuse. His inspiration came from his childhood where joke shops used to sell ink that would disappear after you threw it on someone’s clothes. Though this joke shop material didn’t actually work in the printer, Yee developed an ink that would change based off of pH. After a paper is printed, the CO2 in the air reacts with the ink and forms carbonic acid; the pH slowly drops to become colorless, leaving the paper ready to reuse.
Yee says, “We are still testing out the point of entry to the market, but the uses for such a product are endless. We have already gotten great feedback and a tremendous number of suggestions on how this ink would be useful.”
Attention, Chefs: Local, Sustainable, Farm-Fresh Food Now Just a Click Away
After 15 years working at Foodservice Rewards, a company that offered a rewards program for chefs who purchased from major manufactures such as Nestlé, Kraft and Unilever, startup veteran Tiger Beaudoin kept hearing from more and more conscientious chefs who wanted to buy from local, sustainable sources, how incredibly difficult it was. So Beaudoin decided to shift focus and start a new company — Servli, what he describes as the “Expedia for Restaurateurs.”
Servli is a web app that connects chefs directly with local farmers. Chefs can track inventory and order from farmers directly on the app, which then notifies the farmer who will then fill the order. In the past, chefs have had to check inventory after closing and sometimes call a potential farmer at 2am, with the farmer then having to write down the order and hope that there was accuracy and stock. Servli revolutionizes the way that chefs and local farmers interact, streamlining and optimizing the entire procurement process.
Around 40 percent of farmers’ fruit and vegetable crops go to waste because they do not look perfect enough to be sold in grocery stores. However, a chef would pick local, fresh produce over “beautiful” produce any day. 70 percent of the cost from food comes from transportation, storage, and handling. And interest to sustainable, local food is growing exponentially, with a new generation of discerning foodies reportedly spending 51 percent of their food budgets at restaurants; Servli looks to create the space for chefs and farmers to connect and easily conduct business.
A Yoga Mat That Takes Spiritual Alignment to the Next Level
When ultra-marathoner Ryon Lane broke his neck, he needed a yoga mat that was small and compact to use to recover from his injury. He wanted to be able to run with it on his back, so he designed a new mat that could fold up, fit into his backpack, and integrate into the rest of his lifestyle — cleanly.
The resulting YOGO is compact, folding in half and then rolling into a small bundle with straps and clasps to make transportation easy. Because of the folding method, the bottom of the mat never touches the inside. The mat is extremely grippy, which enhances performance. And the YOGO is made from biodegradable tree rubber, harvested from long-term renewable, non-Amazonian tree plantations. The straps are recyclable plastic, so the entire mat can be recycled or safely discarded at the end of its life.