Upcycling polyethylene (the normal ubiquitous plastic we all know) into high-performance plastics that can compete with ‘virgin’ plastic (meaning plastic is made directly from petrochemicals) is a fiendish problem to solve. The fact that it has been extremely difficult to do so means that billions of tons of plastic are never recycled and it pollutes the planet and our oceans. A new US-based startup, Novoloop, claims to have found an answer.
The two female founders, Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang, have been working on this issue for over five years.
They have now raised $11 million in Series A funding led by Envisioning Partners, with participation from Valo Ventures and Bemis Associates; previous investors participating in the round included SOSV, Mistletoe and TIME Ventures. Novoloop also partners with Bemis Associates, which makes garment bonding solutions, such as seam tapes, found in high-end outerwear.
Novoloop is committed to converting plastic waste into high-quality chemicals and materials. The company says it has developed its own process technology that it calls ATOD™ (Accelerated Thermal Oxidative Decomposition). It claims that this polyethylene (the most commonly used plastic today) breaks down into chemical building blocks that can be synthesized into high-quality products.
The first product is Oistre™, a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) for use in footwear, apparel, sporting goods, automobiles and electronics. Novoloop claims this has a carbon footprint that is up to 46% smaller than conventional TPUs.
Novoloop co-founder and CEO Miranda Wang said in a statement: “Plastic is not going away anytime soon, so we need to innovate to close the gap between what is produced and what is recycled. After years of technological development, we are pleased to announce that high-quality investors and partners will bring this much-needed technology to market.”
“What really forced us to lead the investment round is that Novoloop has found the product-market fit,” said June Cha, partner of Envisioning Partners. “Novoloop has proven that Oistre has a wide range of applications on the market from an early stage.”
During a telephone conversation with me, Wang added: “Polyethylene plastic is the most commonly used packaging, but it is extremely difficult to chemically change and take it apart and make usable things out of it. We solved this by essentially using a new chemical approach to oxidize this polyethylene.”
“Everyone is turning this plastic waste polyethylene into fossil fuel reserves. But for us, our approach is to take the polyethylene waste directly and convert it in one step… So this essentially bypasses a lot of steps and chemicals that would otherwise happen if people put it back.” in oil or gas,” she said.
Novoloop’s competitors include BASF, Covestro, Lubrizol and Huntsman. These are companies that make fossil fuel-based TPU. About 99% of TPUs today are virgin. In other words, this is a massive industry poised for disruption.