Ecovia Renewables, Ann Arbor, MI, wins a contract with AkzoNobel to develop its PGA chemistry.
Ecovia Renewables was one of three winners of AkzoNobel’s Imagine Chemistry 2017 Startup Challenge (see Happi, August 2017). The company’s BioGel polyglutamic acid (PGA) is a sustainable alternative to polyacrylates. According to Ecovia’s Co-Founder and CEO Jeremy Minty, multifunctional PGA shares many functions with polyacrylates. Its natural, renewable, non-toxic and biodegradable properties make it a high-end material. PGA production is typically expensive, but Ecovia executives insist that its scalable, PGA technology, reduces production technology by up to 96%.
Following Ecovia’s victory, Happi caught up with Minty and Andrew C. Hertig, business development, to learn more about the chemistry and what the competition means for Ecovia.
Happi: What made Ecovia enter the competition?
Hertig: We entered AkzoNobel’s Imagine Chemistry Challenge because it seemed like a great fit between our businesses and overall mission, and thought it would be a great venue to get valuable feedback on our green chemistry platform. More specifically, our expertise in fermentation and bio-based polyglutamic (PGA) production seemed like a great fit with AkzoNobel’s business strategy and commercialization expertise. More importantly, it was a fit between our missions that made us want to enter the competition. On one hand, AkzoNobel is looking for ways to create a more sustainable and liveable world through chemistry, while our mission at Ecovia is to develop and commercialize high-performing bio-based chemicals and fuels. Both of our businesses aim to build a more sustainable future.
Happi: What did you learn from the event?
Hertig:The Imagine Chemistry competition consisted of a well-planned framework for connecting startups with key stakeholders and experts across multiple disciplines from AkzoNobel, ranging from scientists and engineers to executive management, which allowed us to receive deep insights on many aspects of our business and technology. We also had great opportunities to connect and network with the other startups. In addition to the excellent feedback we received, we got a better sense of how global companies like AkzoNobel are embracing external innovation. In the Imagine Chemistry competition, AkzoNobel stimulated innovation by having startups, mentors, investors, and industry veterans collide with one another non-stop for two and a half days, leading to a constant flow of new ideas. We ultimately learned that despite the differences between Ecovia and AkzoNobel, we indeed had a similar mission.
Happi: Were you surprised by anything about the competition, such as other competitors' technology or judges’ insights?
Minty: We were very impressed by the organization and success of the Imagine Chemistry competition, and especially by the caliber of the people involved on both AkzoNobel’s side as well as the startups. It was truly a landmark event and sets a new standard for innovation competitions in cleantech and chemistry. From our discussions, our platform holds great potential for replacing petrochemical-based polymers in many personal care products. We are very happy to see such enthusiasm on the technology side of the industry.
Happi: What do you think winning this competition will do for Ecovia?
Minty: AkzoNobel clearly recognizes the needs and market opportunities for sustainability and green chemistry and is poised to become a global leader in this area. We at Ecovia are honored and delighted to have been selected as a finalist and grand prize winner in the Imagine Chemistry competition. The recognition from AkzoNobel sends a strong, validating message about our business and the markets we are addressing. AkzoNobel's downstream, distribution and commercialization capabilities will be synergistic with our fermentation expertise and core process technology. Overall, the Imagine Chemistry competition was a very enlightening experience; the extensive feedback we received from AkzoNobel will be invaluable for the further development of our business and technology. We hope this will set an example for other companies to leverage external innovation tournaments to advance the mission of bringing more sustainable products to market.
Happi: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what will Ecovia’s chemistry do for Happi’s readers, who are formulators of personal care products?
Minty: There are relatively few bio-based and biodegradable formulation ingredients that achieve price and performance profiles comparable to conventional materials. AkzoNobel specifically set forth "Bio-based and Biodegradable Surfactants and Thickeners" as one of their innovation challenge areas, in recognition of needs and market opportunities in this area. Our process and product platforms directly address this challenge area by offering a cost-effective route to a variety of bio-based, non-toxic, and ecofriendly PGA products that can functionally replace synthetic acrylates, acrylamides, and co-polymers currently used in personal care formulations. Ecovia Renewables, like other bio-based specialty chemical startups, is in business because of industry partners and customers. After interviewing numerous stakeholders in the value chain we believe we have found the customer’s voice. We look forward to creating value for personal care product formulators that are actively seeking new bio-based materials to enhance performance and marketing claims.