Innovation Award Nominees and Sponsors (L-R) Hao Ding (Covetion Biomaterials), Sheila Khodadadi (Avantium), Philipp Arbter (Colipi), Michael Carus (nova-Institute), Norbert Baum (Qore), Christian Goldhahn (Kuori), Raul Schweizer (Kuori), Jakob Röskamp (traceless materials), Asta Partanen (nova-Institute), Christoph Gürtler (Covestro)

The annual Renewable Materials Conference took place from 23 to 25 May at ‘Rhein Seig Forum’ in Siegburg. 465 participants from 32 countries attended the conference. The winners of the ‘Renewable Material of the Year 2023’ innovation award were announced at the conference. The winners are bio-based and biodegradable elastic materials from KUORI (CH), carbon-light yeast oil from COLIPI (DE) and the plastic-free natural polymer from traceless (DE).

A major theme of the conference was the future of the chemicals and materials industry. What can a strong, innovative and sustainable industry look like that no longer derives its carbon from fossil sources.

To achieve net-zero emissions, especially including so-called scope 3 emissions, it is becoming increasingly clear that continued investment in fossil carbon products poses a significant risk. Investors and brand owners are putting increasing pressure on suppliers to invest rapidly in alternative carbon sources, the availability of which was a key theme at the conference.

It is clear what needs to be done, the technologies exist and many companies are willing to invest in renewable solutions. What is missing now are smart policies to build the bridge between now and 2050 for companies to remain competitive in the sustainability transformation,” said Michael Carus, CEO of Nova-Institute.

The conference presented and discussed many possible pathways to a net-zero future for materials and chemicals. Dominik Muller, Senior Manager Sustainability & Market Development at UPM Biochemicals (FI), said, “The Renewable Materials Conference was the perfect platform to discuss with other experts how we can accelerate the transformation towards a net zero circular economy, which is only feasible with a joint holistic approach of value chain collaboration. It became clear that alternative feedstocks, such as bio-based, CO2-based and recycled feedstocks, are the key levers to enable this transformation. There is a need for clear and strong messages and commitment along the value chain from feedstock suppliers towards the chemical sector to brands to enable the industry to act faster and bolder.“

List of Winners

KUORI – Bio-based and Biodegradable Elastic Materials (KUORI (CH))

Kuori is developing and producing bio-based and biodegradable elastic materials based on food waste such as banana peels and nutshells, which are sustainable alternatives for conventional elastic materials in various applications.

The first use case are shoe soles. The company is working together with shoe producers who make soles from the innovative materials. This avoids the accumulation of persistent microplastics and offers an ecological end-of-life perspective for the product.

The materials can be fully reintegrated into the biological cycle by industrial composting. Hence, the materials enable a circular business model for shoe producers and other manufacturers of goods.

Carbon-Light Yeast Oil (COLIPI (DE))

COLIPI develops innovative bioprocesses for the transformation of CO₂ to sustainable carbon-light alternatives to plant oils like palm oil. The core innovation and enabler is a patented gas fermentation bioreactor that safely unlocks the world’s fastest CO₂ utilizing microorganisms which turn off-gasses containing CO₂ (directly), H2 and O2 to carbohydrate-rich biomass. These biomass and/or industrial organic side streams serve as feedstock for heterotrophic fermentations, e.g. yeast oil fermentation.

Certain yeast strains have the strength of feedstock agnosticism: a vast variety of different feedstocks can serve as carbon source, among others C5 sugars, C6 sugars, volatile fatty acids, and fat residues. Colipi is actively engaged in joint research and development with large corporations which provide potential feedstocks whereas Colipi tests them for purpose fit. The product consists of triacylglycerides, in composition equivalent to those of plants e.g. oil palm, mainly consisting of C16:0, C18:0 and C18:1 fatty acids. Further valuable molecules like antioxidative vitamins namely astaxanthin, tocopherols, and other carotenoids are produced.

Life cycle assessments and techno-economic analyses were conducted, expressing both: unparalleled low CO₂ footprints of the products and economic viability. The fermentation with two separate process steps will in the future be simplified to a one-step process.

traceless – Plastic-Free Natural Polymer (traceless materials (DE))

traceless is part of a new generation of plastic-free natural polymer materials that go beyond bio-based or biodegradable plastics. The material is based on plant residues of the agricultural industry and contains 100 % bio-based carbon content – hereby supporting the transition from fossils to renewables, while additionally avoiding direct food conflict. Furthermore, traceless is a toxic-free and climate-friendly solution, as the production and disposal emit up to 95 % less CO₂ compared to conventional plastics. The patent-pending production technology is scalable and efficient, saving an average of 83 % of fossil energy demand during production. And even though traceless looks and feels like plastic, the material is certified plastic- and microplastic-free and fully bio-circular – designed to leave no trace. The start-up produces traceless® as a base material in granulate form.

The plastics and packaging industry can further process this granulate to rigid applications, flexible films, coatings, or adhesives, using standard converting technologies. This way, traceless can be used in a wide variety of end products – from single-use products over rigid and flexible packaging to products with high abrasion and coating & adhesive solutions.

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