Nature's Principle: update
Plastic from sugar beets
To make plastic from petroleum, energy and petroleum are needed, which leads to a significant contribution to CO2 emissions. Jules Rombouts, Jan Pieter van Tilburg felt it could (and should) be done differently. With Nature’s Principles, they are working on a new technique to make up to 30% cheaper, recyclable polylactic acid (PLA) plastic. Not with petroleum, but with sugar beets. The TU Delft spin-off raised 500,000 euros last year from the TTT Circular Technology program, investment fund Shift Invest and a business angel investor.
Thanks to the raised investment, Nature’s Principles can further develop their innovation and take the first steps toward the market. The spin-off will expand the team and run tests on a larger scale. In this pilot, Nature’s Principles will convert European sugar beet into lactic acid in order to validate the fermentation process on a thousand times larger scale. The market for lactic acid is growing rapidly because the potential of lactic acid as a basis for sustainable products (think of bioplastics) is acknowledged more often.
Valley of Death
Co-founder Jan Pieter van Tilburg is very happy with the recent developments. Van Tilburg: “With this investment and SHIFT’s expertise, Nature’s Principles will be well-positioned to take the next step and make fermentation-based biochemicals. Also, the TTT program bridges the gap called the Valley of Death that startups experience when they need more funds than subsidies alone can support but they are not yet ready for the first equity round. This is the place we are in right now and the TTT fund brought a fair deal to the table so that we are now able to build up confidence for the equity round.”
The origins of Nature’s Principles are a remarkable story In 2017, Harman and Jules discovered something interesting. In traditional microbiological fermentation, you ferment with one specific pre-selected micro-organism – a pure culture. Consider, for example, making yogurt, where you add lactic acid bacteria to milk after pasteurization. On the other hand, there are “undefined mixed cultures” – open systems in which all kinds of different micro-organisms work against each other and together. Jules: “Think of how we are making biogas. You dump organic waste in a reactor, and biogas comes out. So we thought: could you not also make a specific lactic acid for plastic in this way? And can we possibly compete price-wise with other PLA, or even plastic made from petroleum?”
Van Tilburg is clear about his ambitions for the future. “We want to build a factory in Europe using our novel technology to produce lactic acid on a large scale. This way we will strengthen the path our economy is taking towards the replacement of oil-based chemicals to sustainable plant-based chemicals.”