Toraphene is revolutionising packaging. They have created an economically viable, fully biodegradable and compostable material that can replace polluting and toxic plastics. They are looking for investors and any individuals who want to get involved in spreading the word about plastic alternatives.
Our interview with Gaute, the Founder of Toraphene:
Describe your mission in a sentence or two:
Our mission is to replace toxic plastics. Toraphene™ is the world’s first lifecycle-sustainable, ocean compostable, safe, and commercially-viable alternative to plastic. Our material is better helping protect the environment and all life on this planet from the catastrophic impacts of plastic pollution. The first phase of this mission is replacing the largest category of plastic waste, packaging, which comprises 36% of all plastics produced.
What does impact mean to you as profit driven company?
We define Toraphene as an ‘Impact Enterprise’ that has the objective of creating maximum positive impact for our customers, employees, owners, business partners and the public at large, as well as for the environment. The ability to interweave profit and focus on shareholder value with impact helps our businesses grow, innovate, and take risks, which are all components of the most successful companies. We view ourselves as part of the wave of businesses that profit from proactively reimagining the role and responsibility of business in society.
What is your current biggest challenge and how are you seeking to address it?
Fossil fuel-derived synthetic plastics currently cost 1/3 as much to manufacture as the biopolymers needed for our lifecycle-sustainable and safe alternative. This difference in cost is because the largest biopolymer plant on earth is scaled to only 50,000 tons per year, whilst a "small" plastics plant being built today is at least 40 times that size. The difference is due to scale economies, as the feedstock for both may be without cost (refinery "bottom of the barrel" sludge for synthetics and landfill biowaste for biopolymers).
With the help of graphene, Toraphene biopolymer-based products are stronger and have better content protection and safety, so we need less material than existing biopolymer packaging, which brings the cost per bag down. The rapidly increasing consumer awareness surrounding the negative impacts of plastics, which is driving the global rise in sanctions, legislation and bans, will ensure a dramatic increase in demand for plastic alternatives. This will allow the manufacturing scale to reach that of plastics in the medium term. At that point, government subsidies and most bans will no longer be needed.
What are you most proud of or excited about for your business?
That we have achieved such an abundance of accomplishments that include innovations of chemistries, materials, designs and manufacturing methods, and that we have been able to attract and develop so many amazing team members, crucial contacts and partnerships. It is is impossible to highlight one that stands out above all the others, but a few are: our exclusive access to a superior green and scalable manufacturing method for functional graphene; our early partnership with Unilever which led the development of our unique recyclable and biodegradable barrier films; and the team we have on board today which keep creating magic and transforming us to a “go-to-market” company.
What kind of partnerships do you have in place to grow your business?
We have developed a range of partnerships including R&D partnerships and relationships with hundreds of top researchers, scientists and engineers at universities and research labs across more than 40 countries. We also have a industrial partnership with the EUR 1 Billion Graphene Flagship R&D programme of the EU in Brussels and a partnership with Cambridge Graphene Center in the UK. We have also a partnership with the Center for Surface Engineering and Lubrication Research at the University of Akron, which is part of the world's largest polymer academic programme. We have a polymer development and testing partnership agreement with them that includes compostability testing. Finally, we are a member of Hatch, in the USA, which is a non-profit ecosystem that aims to accelerate solutions for positive impact.
What does 2030 look like in your mind?
Today, Plastics is a $4 Trillion annual revenue industry. In 10 years time, we expect its use to be limited to industrial sectors where plastics useful life exceeds 15-20 years, and hence the environmental impact is more manageable. This is mainly in industrial machinery and building and construction. This segment uses 74 million tons or 17% of all plastics made today. We expect the plastics industry production to be below 50 million tonnes in 2030.
In 2030 we expect Toraphene’s new material category (compostable reinforced biopolymer composites) to be considerably bigger than what the plastics industry is today. Growth will come from the necessary replacement of metals which will not be able to compete with biopolymers due to their toxicity, excess weight, scarcity, unsustainable extraction and end of life cost/pollution. We expect Toraphene to have opened most of their patents for the greater good of the growth of the industry and to speed up the replacement of toxic plastic.
We expect Toraphene to be more focused on intelligent packaging and materials as a higher value growth area for the company in 2030. This will include materials, films and coatings that will alert the user of aging, degradation, corrosion, fatigue, cracking, bacteria/virus contamination, or any breaches of structural integrity, barrier properties, or conductivity.
What other UK impactful start-up do you love and why?
We love MarinaTex which is developing bioplastic made from agar that is derived from red algae and from fish waste. Unlike land-based binders, red algae does not need any fresh water, fertile land or fertilisers to grow. This versatile plant can grow all over the world and is naturally carbon positive. Together with utilized waste destined for landfills MarinaTex contributes to a circular economy. We also love Notpla, which aims to combine seaweed and plants to create edible packaging material, and Oceanium who are developing home-compostable, marine-safe food packaging from sustainably farmed North Atlantic Seaweed.
What’s next for your company?
We have just produced our Minimum Viable Product, a carrier bag. We will first focus on bags, before moving on to coffee cups and food containers. These are the plastics that make up 23% of all marine waste.
With most operational staff in place, and talks entered with several major packaging buyers, we have a low-overhead manufacturing model that plugs into existing supply chains. We also rent production capacity from existing plastic bag manufacturers, and are able to easily implement our technology globally. Our ongoing funding round will support the manufacturing and marketing of our unique solution, and in turn will allow even more “alternative to plastic” products to be pilot-tested and commercialised.
We have also acquired our first commercial customers, including consumer goods multinationals, grocery chains, waste management companies and clothing retailers, and we are now planning on expanding our distribution. We also have a plan for scaling production across the UK and EU to capture 10-15% of market share (of bio-based packaging) by 2023, exceeding £100m of revenue within 4 yrs.
What can you offer the SeedTribe community?
At Toraphene, all our Co-founders and executives have previously been part of successful tech startup founding teams. We have learnt a lot through these experiences and would love to share this hard-earned knowledge with the SeedTribe community. Our startup experiences include media/communications technology, extreme sports technologies, enterprise cloud software, nanomaterials manufacturing and solar power technology.
We also have a lot of experience in business development and negotiating the all important but also very difficult to close agreements between startups and large multinationals (incumbents) like GE, Telenor, Unilever, Schlumberger, Zoom, Merck and Hitachi, and we would be happy to share strategic learnings, methodologies and tactics for early success.
How can the SeedTribe community be involved in helping you scale your impact?
The SeedTribe community can be involved in a range of ways. Firstly, we are looking for investors. Secondly, we would love if anyone interested in our work followed us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.
More generally, people can get involved by increasing the awareness and demand for plastic alternatives, such as Toraphene. They can spread the word, for example to restaurants or coffee shops, about alternatives such as Toraphene Finally, people can get involved with local non-profits that are campaigning against plastic.
To be put in touch with Gaute, send us an email.