In 2011, Shaun Chatterton, the founder and CEO of Floreon had a goal: to find a sustainable alternative to the oil-based plastic used for water cooler bottles. This goal turned into a spin-out startup from the University of Sheffield, that now, not only makes bioplastics from corn and sugar for water cooler bottles, but for toys, electronics, and everything in between.
There are many bioplastic startups and research projects out there, from hemp-based ones like Southern California-headquartered Terramer, a plethora of seaweed-based ones like Loliware, to fruit and veggie-based ones like those made with pineapple stems, mangoes, peas, and, in the case of Floreon, corn and sugar cane.
What all of these materials have in common are sugars that essentially create a transparent, strong, and elastic material — all the things loved about plastic. However, when plastics are byproducts of oil and gas, and as reports show, are the current direction of the fossil fuel industry as the world pivots to renewables, an alternative is needed.
As the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen explained at the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP28) currently going on in Dubai, “We must end the addiction, including in the plastics industry, because business-as-usual growth in plastics would burn through up to 20 percent of the carbon budget for 1.5°C by 2040 – mainly from the production of primary polymers and conversion into products.”
“To the fossil fuel industry, I say: plastics are not a lifeboat for you as energy systems decarbonize,” she added later in her speech. “The world can’t afford the emissions. And besides, what are you going to do in a lifeboat, except bob around aimlessly while the world changes around you?”
If it wasn’t clear from Andersen’s statements, over 99 percent of the world’s plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
That’s why in addition to increased global plastic regulations over the last decade, and even an increased presence in UN negotiations, as exhibited by the currently-discussed Global Plastics Treaty, a series of bioplastic startups have emerged. All of them are working to create an alternative for the most common plastics in the world, and ideally, make their options the norm.
According to Floreon, which recently received a £2 million ($2.5 million) Series A investment, what separates the company is not only that it’s the “world’s first low-energy, non-oil based, high-performance bioplastic,” but also that it’s Therma-Tech bioplastic is the first in the world to receive a UL94V-0 flammability certification, which means it can be used across applications with heat, from home electronics to automotive to construction. This opens up a sea of possibilities unlimited to straws and cutlery, like many other bioplastic startups.
“Everyday oil-based plastics are contributing to the global environmental crisis. Our vision is to offer brands an alternative product and, through this, transform the global plastics market,” Chatterton said in a statement on the round.
The investment was from the firm Northern Gritstone, which according to Floreon, will allow the team to expand and bring its products to market. Aside from Therma-Tech, its other products include Dura-Tech, its alternative for non-flammable products, and Bio-Tech, its solution for food packaging and other agricultural applications. With its products and investment, Floreon, which is based in the United Kingdom, has its eyes on mass production.
“Floreon has developed an innovative and unique technology that offers producers a genuine route to reducing the environmental impact of their plastic products,” Duncan Johnson, CEO of Northern Gritstone said in a statement. “This truly fits into Northern Gritstone’s ‘Profit with Purpose’ philosophy helping to create the world-class businesses of tomorrow from the world-class science that exists in the North of England today.”