Novoloop, a Silicon Valley start-up company is claiming its ‘breakthrough’ accelerated thermal oxidative decomposition (ATOD) technology harvests carbon-rich feedstock from polyethylene (PE) scrap to produce high performance materials that rival virgin plastic. ‘We’re pushing forward polymer chemistry while fighting today’s biggest environmental challenges,’ says company ceo Miranda Wang. Here, she shares her story.
How did you get the idea to launch your business?
‘When I was a teenager growing up in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to visit a waste transfer facility. As we toured, it dawned on both my co-founder Jeanny Yao and me that our world’s plastic waste problem was a lot bigger than we ever anticipated. We heard that, globally, only 9% of plastics is recycled. And of that proportion, even less is effectively recycled. So, while most of us might think that recycling starts and ends with putting things in a recycling bin, that’s really not true. Jeanny and I wanted to create a company that focuses on recycling PE, the most common plastic that ends up in landfill.’
What were the key moments that led you to this point?
‘The high school field trip inspired Jeanny and me to engage in a science competition – the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge – through which we discovered that soil bacteria that can eat plasticisers. Our win in the science fair led to us being scouted by the TED 2013 Conference, where we gave a talk about plastic pollution and a potential solution to decompose it. This happened when we were freshmen in college.
We started hearing from people around the world about how big a problem plastic pollution was. In 2015, we founded Novoloop (formerly BioCellection) to create a solution. We visited waste management plants across America and realised that PE, especially film, was extremely difficult to recycle once contaminated. We also realised that chemical methods – as opposed to biochemical methods – were more scalable at breaking down plastics. It also became clear that an economical technology must create useful, valuable, and sustainable products out of the waste.
Over the past six years, we’ve built a team of scientists who share our passion for this problem and created our current technology. In short, we feel there was never a choice for us not being in the recycling sector.’
Could you describe the products you have created so far?
‘We can take dirty plastic bag and upcycle it into something of much higher value like running shoes. Our flagship product XIRC is a line of sustainable and customisable high-performance, polyester-based, TPU elastomers using up to 50% post-consumer polyethylene. This is exciting because it signifies a significant shift where consumers no longer need to choose between a product’s performance and its sustainability. Novoloop delivers sustainability and performance hand-in-hand, where brands can use XIRC as a drop-in replacement material for numerous markets. Our recycled material can help create new shoe soles or car interiors, for example.’
Could you share some more details about your patented process?
We’ve handled PE as plastic bags, bubble wrap, pallet wrap, food and other product packaging, agricultural film, take-out containers, shampoo bottles, and more. Our patented accelerated thermal oxidative decomposition (ATOD) technology upgrades PE that struggles to find or does not have recycling market outlets into good-as-new performance materials that meet brand-owners’ needs.’
‘Our flagship product, XIRC, is designed to help planet-conscious brands accelerate the adoption of sustainable performance materials without compromising quality and durability. XIRC contains up to 50% post-consumer recycled content.
How we do it:
- We use our chemical process ATOD to break down polyethylene waste into proprietary building blocks. This step happens with low heat input (less than 200°C) and using a mechanism that recycles the acidic solvent used for the reaction in standardised chemical equipment. This step results in the biggest CO2e reduction, which is 68%.
- We harvest these building blocks and build performance materials worth up to 50x the value of the plastic waste it started with. Our first product, XIRC, is designed to help planet-conscious brands accelerate the adoption of sustainable performance materials without compromising quality and durability. It’s worth noting that XIRC has a 45% CO2e reduction compared to virgin thermoplastic polyurethanes.
How much material has your company processed so far?
‘Let’s be clear – we are not yet a commercial volume recycler or sustainable material producer. We are currently working on validating the market adoption for our product XIRC, and working with a commercial partner on the east coast to scale up our process.’
What were your expectations when you launched Novoloop?
‘When we started working on a solution to plastic waste six years ago, we weren’t sure if the world was ready for it. Some of our first investor pitches were met with disbelief that the problem was real. Now, looking back from where we are today, in a world where investors actively prioritise investments in sustainable manufacturing and the circular economy, and consumers demand quality recycled products, we’re relieved that we founded the company at the right time and we stuck with it through all these years. You could say that being involved in the recycling sector has shaped our teenage years and now, our careers.’
What type of plastic do you target?
‘Our average input is contaminated plastic film. It’s sometimes clear, sometimes pigmented, and can also contain print. It usually has dirt and dust on the surface. Sometimes it also has other contaminants such as metal rust, glue, and food.’ We accept all types of PE, which is the most produced yet least recycled plastic. Did you know, the world produces over 100 million tonnes every year but recycles less than 8%?
Innovation doesn’t happen overnight. Do you have a motto that inspires you?
‘The famous one by Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.’
Where do you source most material from?
‘Novoloop currently upcycles carbon-rich polyethylene waste feedstock, such as household waste, from the City of San Jose and GreenWaste Recovery, as well as from a certified post-consumer plastic processor. Through Novoloop, post-consumer polyethylene waste is reimagined into performance materials that go into everyday products.’
Which companies or brands have you worked with so far?
‘Currently, we’re bringing our first products onto the market through limited special partnerships with different consumer brands that are very committed to sustainability and excited about this new material. We can’t disclose any names at the moment but are excited for what’s to come!’
How did your company experience Covid-19?
‘With the pandemic accelerating a rising wave of one-time plastic usage – now estimated at more than 380 million tonnes of plastic in a year – there has never been a more critical time to be embracing products like XIRC. We’ve seen an increase in interest in our product and brands. Manufacturers have been actively finding us through their own searches and reaching out to us.’
Are you confident you will be able to make this a good year despite the aftermath of the pandemic?
‘This past year has been incredible for climate tech start-ups. Investments have grown in our area and we have seen a surge in demand for sustainable materials. We are more optimistic than ever.’
What are your goals for 2021?
‘Novoloop’s overarching mission is to invent and provide the most useful and sustainable polymers. We’re on a path to mitigate up to 685 million tonnes of CO2e annually. In 2021 and 2022, we aim to deliver XIRC into the hands of customers and to really drive growth by showing how XIRC is the material everyone’s been waiting for.’
Has your business grown much since you started?
‘It started with myself and Jeanny but has now grown to a small but mighty team of 11, including our chief technical officer Jennifer Le Roy and our director of engineering Jason Bronkema. Next month, we’re excited to welcome our incoming head of marketing, Susan Emerick, formerly director of global marketing at leading fashion and footwear brand Timberland. And we have plans to continue growing!’
What do you hope your company will be able to contribute to the circular economy?
‘We want to help double the size of the circular economy. How? Today, the circular economy for packaging plastics is estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey to be worth between EUR 66-98 billion. Since we turn plastic waste into performance materials, the size of our market is additional to those the current reports have studied. Our product platform is going after a EUR 115 billion opportunity. By expanding circularity beyond packaging to materials used in the products themselves, we are effectively doubling the circular economy potential to around EUR 215 billion.’
What are your thoughts on the global plastics recycling industry today and in the future?
‘A generation shift in consumerism is underway with millennial and Gen Z shoppers influencing brands to supply more sustainable products – including a big focus on recycled products. From the stats we have seen, up to 58% of consumers actually want products with recycled content and 80% of major companies have goals set to meet these demands.
Today, green options in performance material categories are limited to either bio-based materials with environmental caveats and high prices, or recycled products that don’t perform. While demand for sustainable performance materials has been going up, the plastic industry has not been able to respond to this demand. We’re excited about meeting this opportunity by finally giving the world recycled performance materials that perform, make the environment better, and are affordable.’
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
‘We strive to become the most transformational materials company by showing the world what can be done with plastic scrap.’
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