The company could already make hybrid packaging material consisting of 20% algae-based biopolymer and 80% standard plastic polymer and would soon be able to bump the algae content up to 50%, said Scheer.
Demand for such materials would be driven by firms looking to escape the price volatility now inherent in the traditional oil-based plastics market and cut their carbon footprint, he said.
“We have a product called Biopropylene 109D designed for injection moulding that’s 20% algae,” he told this site. “The next product to come is 50%, which will be commercialised before the end of this financial quarter. This could be used eventually in food packaging. These are first generation products.”
However, these hybrid formats were not biodegradable, whereas the second generation materials Algaeplast were working on should be fully biodegradable, he said. “The product would be recycled in the traditional recycling stream.”
These would be designed for thermoforming, extrusion and blow moulding functions, he added.
“We want to make some research on a monomer that will present properties that can then be used within the next 18 months.” Algaeplast would then use that as a foundation to create biopolymers, said Scheer.
In terms of customers, Algaeplast would target “large companies that clearly have a global reach”. Cereplast itself had a presence outside the US in regions such as Europe and India, he said.
However, at present, the raw material supply base was not big enough to cater for significant orders. “We have a lot of enquiries, but so far because of the supply issue we have not been able to commercialise too many products.”
He does not foresee supply being an obstacle for long, though. He said adequate algae supplies to fuel global production of bioplastics could be drawn from the waste product of companies that were using algae as a base for biofuel for commercial airline and aerospace firms.
“Supply should never be too much of a problem. Suppliers will increase the number of products. Growing algae is definitely on the radar screen. United Airlines, Boeing, General Dynamics are investing in algae [for fuel].”
Scheer said Algaeplast was expecting several million dollars-worth of research investment and he expected the formation of the company as a commercial vehicle to open doors to funding. “There’s a lot of grant money for algae, not so much for [traditional] bioplastics.”
He would not name potential funding partners, adding: “All R&D [research and development] will be in the US.”
Best algae to use
One of the immediate areas of research would concentrate on identifying the best algae to use for mass production out of the more than 6,500 species on earth, he said.
In terms of raw materials, algae-based biomass was cheaper than more traditional starch-based biopolymers, added Scheer.
Cereplast brought the first products made from algae-based bioplastics to market in 2011 and commercialised Biopropylene 109D in December 2012. All such work will now be channelled through Algaeplast, the creation of which was announced just last week.