Microplastics are everywhere, from arctic snow and the deepest corners of the ocean To bottled water, table salt, and your baby poop. Sometimes the source of the problem is far from obvious: Laundry detergent, for example, is usually made of plastic microcapsules to retain scent. In Europe, these “added” microplastics will soon be banned in products. But until recently, there was no viable alternative.
calyxia, a Parisian startup, has now developed new biodegradable microcapsules and is stepping up its production. The company, which just announced it has raised 15 million euros ($ 17.5 million) in a Series A funding led by Astanor Ventures, is also developing coatings that can be added to plastic products, such as electronics, sporting goods or cars. to help prevent the material from releasing microplastics as it wears out.
Co-founder and CEO Jamie Walters, who grew up in a small mining community in the UK, had a long interest in rethinking the traditional industry. “My grandfather was a coal miner and my father was a coal miner,” he says. “My uncle was a coal miner. And I was expected to be a coal miner too. But then the coal mines closed because they weren’t safe, they weren’t very sustainable, and they weren’t very economically viable to go forward. So, living this experience, I have always wanted to rebuild industries because I believe they can rebuild communities that are safe, sustainable and capable of advancing society, and which are also economically viable.
As a researcher at Parisian University ESPCI, he partnered with scientists from Harvard and Cambridge University to develop the new technology. The team built a library of potential biodegradable materials to use for the hulls, then evaluated them in terms of biodegradability and performance. (For intellectual property reasons, the company does not disclose the materials it has chosen to use.)
One of the first markets for the technology is agriculture, where microcapsules are used to slowly release active ingredients such as pesticides. Using capsules improves crop yields and means less active ingredient is needed, but since current products are made from plastic, they end up building up and damaging soil health. In third-party testing, the new microcapsules completely degraded, leaving only oxygen and CO2. The capsules also improve performance, so companies can use even less active ingredient, reducing costs.
In household cleaning products like laundry detergents, microcapsules are used to protect the scent from evaporation and diffuse it onto the fabric when clothes are washed and worn. Again, the existing microcapsules on the market are plastic and do not degrade, eventually washing pipes and eventually damaging aquatic ecosystems. During tests, Calyxia discovered that its products fully biodegrade in wastewater treatment plants.
Another product can be used as a coating to protect plastic products from wear or UV degradation. “We live in a plastic world and these plastics degrade,” says Walters. As materials break down, the new coating provides lubricant that stops additional wear, helping materials last up to 10 times longer.
In a new production facility, the company has the capacity to manufacture hundreds of tons of product and plans to grow to thousands of tons as it starts working with large companies that need to make changes before it goes into effect. of the European Union ban on microplastics. in 2022. The same technology can also be used to develop hundreds of new products. “The more I talk to Jamie, the more we come up with potential new use cases,” says Laetitia de Panafieu, Investment Director at Astanor Ventures.