Patent of the Month October
Facing climate and energy crisis, sustainability is the order of the day! So this month we turn to a very promising development that is taking up the fight against global plastic pollution. The start-up "traceless materials Ltd" from Hamburg has developed a method to produce a completely biodegradable plastic alternative from grain residues, for which it was recently honoured with the German Founders' Prize. The basic technology was internationally patent pending in 2020. Thus, document WO2021249621A1 entitled "Process for producing water-resistant film from corn gluten material" is our Patent of the Month October!
The two founders, Dr. Anne Lamp and Johanna Baare, want to make the "greatest possible impact on solving global plastic pollution" with their start-up. Large-scale manufactured plastics from petroleum are problematic in many respects. Besides wasting resources and increasing global greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that they are not biodegradable has fatal consequences for ecosystems. Alternative plastics are made from natural polymers such as starch, cellulose or lignin; they save resources and are furthermore microbially degradable. The idea is not new at all. Cellophane foil was invented as far back as 1908, dominating the mass market for wrapping material until the 1950s. The product stood out with an entirely sustainable life cycle from plant material to complete compostability, but was displaced in the 1960s by the cheaper petrochemically manufactured products.
The approach of the "impact start-up" goes one step further. To avoid food conflicts, the technical solution relies on the use of vegetable waste, as it is obtained - for example - during grain processing. As described in the patent, these by-products are processed into a bio-granulate that is suitable for the production of all kinds of plastic products (e.g. packaging films or hard plastics such as bowls, cups and cutlery). This makes the product suitable for a broad market. Another advantage of the granulate: it can be processed by conventional industry in pre-existing production plants. Given this, environmental friendly alternatives are possible, without industrial and end customers having to change. "It is very important for us to bring a solution to the market that does not require any change in behaviour from the end consumer, because we are not going to change the whole society," says Johanna Baare.
To realise their goals successfully, the two company owners complement each other perfectly. Dr Lamp is a trained process engineer. She developed the environmentally friendly biorefinery process as part of her PhD at the Technical University of Hamburg. Keen interest on the part of industry inspired the researcher to found the start-up. She then met Johanna Baare through the Berlin incubator "Project Together". The management consultant and psychologist contributed her experience in business strategies and early funding from the social start-up scene to the project. What unites both of them above all is the idea that everything around their product must be sustainable.
The company remains on track for success. In 2021, traceless materials ltd. was one of the most awarded start-ups. The business, which meanwhile employs more than 20 people, has found two prominent partners for its first projects in the mail-order company Otto and Lufthansa.
Further rounds of investment are already planned for the end of 2022, and by 2030, the two visionaries aim to produce one million tonnes of their footprint-free material!
The Patent and Standards Centre looks forward to many great ideas for a sustainable future!
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Bildquelle: Deutscher Gründerpreis 2022