From edible drinking straws to flexible packaging, developing plastic from seaweed kelp.
An inside into the founder Guy Maurice and his innovation.
“I was tired of just working on the downstream side of things, says entrepreneur Guy Maurice when he tells about the career that led to the company B’ZEOS”
The founder is an engineer specializing in environmental engineering. He has several years of experience as an engineer for the energy company “Equinor”, and work with waste management in various organizations located in Panama, where he saw the problems that arose due to lack of infrastructure for waste management. But it was in a bar in New York that the idea for an alternative plastic product came up.
“I sat there, in an "organic" bar and was served an organic drink - with plastic straws on top.”
"Before, no one cared!"
The environment enthusiast started looking for a material that could replace plastic; and it should preferably not be made of corn, sugar, or other plant material that is growing on the land. Guy was aware of life cycle studies which show that these alternatives require too many resources both to be sustainable and profitable.
The solution was seaweed.
Through the laboratory and office community Sharelab, which brings together start-up companies in biotechnology in the Research Park's premises in Oslo, he met Jon Funderud the CEO of Seaweed Energy Solutions, which has been extracting seaweed for a decade.
“Our vision has been to not only harvest wild kelp but start growing it on a large scale. Seaweed is a very effective plant, which does not need fertilizer, freshwater, or land. If you plant kelp, it grows from one centimeter to two meters in three months. It is as productive as the most productive land plants, such as sugar cane, says Funderud.”
“The positive thing about kelp is also that it does something good for the environment, instead of destroying it, says Guy, and points out that kelp forest, among other things, creates ecosystems for fish.”
Funderud has seen a growing interest in the material. To date, around NOK 200 million has been invested in Seaweed Energy Solutions, including from the Research Council and various EU projects.
“Before, no one cared - kelp was just something that got in the way when you went swimming. We are now seeing increased interest from the industry, and many start-up companies have been granted a license to grow kelp, says Funderud, who himself collaborates with several of these companies.”
The Kelp Innovation Caught Nestles Attention:
The interest from the industry also noticed Guy quickly. B’ZEOS, which in 2018 had a turnover of NOK 50,000 and had a negative operating profit of NOK 142,000, quickly hit the radar of food giant Nestlé. Today, B’ZEOS consists of six employees, in addition to the entrepreneur himself.
Guy and four colleagues were flown to Lausanne to meet the team in Nestlé's accelerator program, which provides funds and invests in start-up companies that make alternative packaging. They came up with what varieties of kelp plastic they wanted the B’ZEOS team to continue working on for them before they would eventually enter as investors in the company. As of now, they have provided funds to the company, and make production equipment available for the work of Guy and his team.
Can we find Nestlé chocolate wrapped in kelp soon?
“I have never said that it is about chocolate, I cannot say anything about which products the kelp plastic should be used on, - Guy.”
Nestlé is very secretive when it comes to new packaging. They do not want to say what B’ZEOS’ packaging will be used for, how much they have given B’ZEOS for development, or how much they can invest. Guy can, however, confirm that the kelp plastic can be seen in Nestlé's test stores already at the end of 2020 if everything goes according to plan.
Long Term Profits
The biggest challenge with plastic made from biological material such as kelp, in addition to making it do the same job that regular plastic does, is to make it just as cheap to produce.
Guy hopes they can achieve this when the kelp is produced on a large scale, and the production methods become more efficient. He has calculated that the company must produce 500 tons of kelp plastic to make a profit - a goal he believes is achievable.
“As of now, it is possible to produce for around 70-80 kroner per kilo, which is too much. The goal is to come down to between 40 and 50 kroner per kilo, then we can eventually compete with other bioplastics and ordinary plastic, says Guy.”
The second challenge will be to make people understand in which bin this type of plastic should be thrown away.
Can kelp plastic be recycled?
“It's a bit like asking if a banana can be recycled, Guy” who explains that their material would probably not be recycled but home composted.
Interview for Dagens Naeringlsliv - 08/03/2020