DN: Kelp-based plas­tic teas­es food giant

The entrepreneur was served an organic drink with plastic straws - then came the idea for a new type of plastic.

Founder Guy Maurice develops plastic made from kelp. It aroused interest in food giant Nestlé.

- 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.

He is an engineer specializing in environmental engineering. The CV includes several years as an engineer for the energy company Equinor, and work with waste management in various organizations - including in Panama, where he saw the problems that arose due to lack of infrastructure for waste management.

But it was at 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
It seemed the Belgian was too stupid. He started looking for a material that could replace plastic. And it should preferably not be of corn, sugar or other plant material that is grown on land. Maurice was aware of life cycle studies which show that these alternatives require too many resources both to be sustainable and profitable.

The solution was kelp. Through the laboratory and office community Sharelab, which brings together start-up companies in biotechnology in the Research Park's premises in Oslo, he came into contact with Jon Funderud. He is one of the founders behind Seaweed Energy Solutions, which has been extracting kelp 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, fresh water 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 actually does something good for the environment, instead of destroying it, says Maurice, 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.

Picked up by Nestlé
The interest from the industry also noticed Maurice 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.

Maurice 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 to the conclusion that the variants of the 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 Maurice and his team.

- Can we find Nestlé chocolate wrapped in kelp soon?

- I have never said that it is about chocolate, I can not say anything about which products the kelp plastic should be used on, Maurice answers quickly.

Nestlé is very secretive when it comes to new packaging. They do not want to say what Maurice's packaging will be used for, how much they have given B'zeos for development, or how much they can invest. Maurice 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.

Must be profitable
The biggest challenge with plastics made from biological material such as kelp, in addition to making it do the same job that ordinary plastics do, is to make it just as cheap to produce.

Maurice 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 600 tonnes of kelp plastic to make a profit - a goal he believes is achievable.

- As of now, it is possible to produce for around 50-60 kroner per kilo, which is too much. The goal is to come down to between 20 and 30 kroner per kilo, then we can eventually compete with other bioplastics and ordinary plastic, says Maurice.

The second challenge will be to make people understand where this type of plastic should be thrown away - he must constantly answer the question also DN asks him: Can kelp plastic be recycled?

- It's a bit like asking if a banana can be recycled, Maurice answers, who explains that the plastic should not be recycled, but is degradable and should be thrown in the compost.

Translated from original article

Link (Norwegian): https://www.dn.no/morgendagens-naringsliv/plast/plastforurensning/klima-og-miljo/grunderen-ble-servert-organisk-okologisk-drink-med-plastsugeror-da-kom-ideen-til-en-ny-type-plast/2-1-761303