Plastic as we know it may never be the same.
The confluence of technology, two brilliant minds, and a handful of lemons is the driving force behind a novel startup: Poly6 Technologies.
To transform society through advanced materials innovation.
The year was 2012.
Poly6 Technologies’ current Co-Founder and CEO, Keith Hearon, was then pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
Inspired by his Co-Founder, Matthew Stellmaker, who worked in the fast food industry and sought to reduce the amount of plastic in his company’s waste stream, and a 1993 study executed by Sony Corporation proving a citrus extract called D-limonene could dissolve Stryofoam, Hearon unearthed the following: combining D-limonene with a second chemical resulted in a presumably biodegradable, never-before-made “citrus plastic”. Hearon further discovered that adding recycled Styrofoam to his citrus plastic recipe significantly strengthened the material.
In 2012, Citrene was born.
The implications are tremendous.
As proclaimed on Poly6’s website, Citrene is a naturally derived, renewably sourced, presumably biodegradable resin that may significantly impact the commodity plastics, engineering plastics, biomaterials, and green coatings industries.
2014: Citrene on the map.
Representing Poly6 during the 2014 Collegiate Inventors Competition at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Hearon and Citrene were selected as one of 15 finalists from participants around the nation.
That same year, Advanced Materials, the #1 materials science journal in the world (according to Google metrics), further popularized Citrene when it featured the invention both in an article and inside its front cover.
Citrene, patent pending, has incredible potential to affect a broad range of industrial applications.
The global plastics industry offers immense opportunity for sustainable change.
Worldwide, increasing consumer demands for tangible goods have augmented the production of plastic to unprecedented levels.
Plastic is everywhere.
It is filling our landfills, abolishing our marine life, and polluting our environment.
Consider the following:
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times.
- Plastic may take 1,000 years or more to degrade in a landfill.
- Nearly 300 billion pounds of plastic per year is thrown into landfills.
- More than 70% of plastics currently used in the industry are derived from petroleum-derived resources (consumable resources).
- The global plastics industry is anticipated to surpass $575 billion by EOY 2017.
Statistics sourced from RCU, Recycling Coalition of Utah.
Consequently, the need for recycling current plastics and developing new, sustainably sourced plastics and biodegradable plastics has become paramount.
Poly6 Technologies aims to both engineer new plastics from sustainably sourced precursors and provide alternative solutions for the non-degradable plastics that are polluting our lakes, rivers, oceans, and landfills.
Keith Hearon, CEO and Co-Founder of Poly6 Technologies, is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Langer Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Keith has eight patents pending or granted in materials science and biotechnology fields. Prior to Poly6, Keith obtained a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. During his Ph.D. tenure (2009 – 2013), Keith received four graduate fellowships, including the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Fellowship and the NSF GRFP Fellowship. In 2009, Keith received a B.S. in Materials Science & Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Matthew Stellmaker, Co-Founder of Poly6 Technologies, is currently a real estate developer, a public speaker, a board member for Young Life Guatemala ministry, a volunteer dance instructor, and an experimenter in rapid prototyping and product development. Prior to Poly6, Matthew dedicated his efforts to commercial real estate and site acquisition. He developed Chick-fil-A, Inc.’s LEED Volume program, founded Grupo NIMS in Patagonia, Chile and piloted a rural housing initiative with regional Chilean Governments to reduce deforestation. Matthew’s initiatives have been heavily focused on environmental sustainability and he is passionate about globalization. In 2010, Matthew received a B.S. in Building Construction from Georgia Institute of Technology.
INFILTRATING AN EXISTING COLOSSAL MARKET:
To further understand the competitive advantage and future outlook of Poly6 Technologies, I conducted a brief interview with CEO and Co-Founder, Keith Hearon.
TSI: How do the performance and biodegradability of Citrene differ from bioplastics or other substances completely comprised of biodegradable materials?
Hearon: Citrene is not a single material, but is a family of materials and is highly versatile. It exhibits tunable material properties, including tunable rigidity, tensile strength and biodegradation rate, and this material versatility makes it relevant for use in applications ranging from water-resistant coatings to biomedical devices to commodity plastics (think: children’s toys made from citrus peels). While many plastics have a specific rigidity, strength, or degradation rate, Citrene’s material attributes can be tuned to application-specific demands.
TSI: Can you describe the competitive advantage(s) of Citrene versus other existing combinations of petrochemicals and organic catalysts?
Hearon: Citrene’s competitive advantages lie in its unique advanced processing capabilities and tunable material behavior. Pick an application that needs a soft plastic, and a soft form of Citrene can be easily processed into a desired shape by 3D printing. Need a water-resistant coating? Citrene can be easily applied to various surfaces and cured on top of the surfaces to prevent water damage and corrosion. Want to form a children’s toy from a naturally-derived plastic? Citrene is very easy to cast into various shapes.
TSI: What is Citrene’s speed of biodegradation? Does Citrene meet the criteria of compostable?
Hearon: Citrene is a new material system, so we are still learning about its various biodegradation rates. Poly6 is working with multiple corporate partners to assess Citrene’s biodegradation rate in various environments.
TSI: Are there inorganic compounds remaining when Citrene biodegrades? If so, is this an environmental issue?
Hearon: No organometallic catalysts or inorganic species are used in Citrene’s production.
TSI: You unearthed in your research that adding Styrofoam strengthens the composition of your plastic. How does the addition of Styrofoam affect the completeness and timeframe of biodegradation?
Hearon: While Citrene contains chemical bonds that will eventually degrade in the environment or in the body, polystyrene (the polymer component of Styrofoam) does not readily degrade in environmental or physiological conditions. Poly6 aims to develop sustainably sourced, biodegradable plastics solutions while also creating innovative recycling solutions for materials that have already been produced and used in society. We are thinking for the future while also addressing challenges that exist in the present.
TSI: Can you share your vision on the manner in which Poly6 Technologies will profit from Citrene? Who will be the first customer(s)? What further steps are necessary to scale this technology and make Citrene an economic reality?
Hearon: Poly6 is initially working to commercialize Citrene as a water-resistant coating for various surfaces (wood, paper, cardboard, other plastics, ceramics, etc.) We are currently working to assess Citrene’s specific competitive advantages within the coatings space. From a long-term standpoint we are planing to drive the development of Citrene-based biomedical and pharmaceutical devices.
THE NEXT FRONTIER:
One of the chief entrepreneurial challenges is obtaining the necessary support and capital required to launch great ideas.
This past June, Poly6 Technologies was accepted into the FOUNDER.org Class of 2016, a prestigious recognition and source of funding.
FOUNDER.org is an assembly of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists seeking to help the next generation of business owners. Each year, the organization accepts up to 50 teams into its 8D entrepreneurial training program. “Our mission is to get young people starting companies, creating jobs, and changing the world. The goal is to help these teams overcome the key challenges encountered in starting and scaling a new venture.”
“The world is few of great ideas, but only a few become reality. Currently there is a gap between the resources these entrepreneurs need and the ability of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide them.” – MassChallenge.com.
The largest start-up accelerator in the world, otherwise known as MassChallenge, is a four-month program in which both funding and advice are rendered to participating entrepreneurs. Millions of dollars in cash rewards (zero equity required in return) are awarded to the best ideas.
Poly6 Technologies was selected as a 2015 MassChallenge finalist and will compete for funding at the end of September.
As Abraham Lincoln once proclaimed, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Kudos to Poly6 for writing the stories that will shape tomorrow.