Kelp Industries Ltd t/a Kelpi is a young, science-driven business based in Bath which has been working to reduce plastic packaging with fully compostable seaweed-derived alternatives.
They have an established relationship with the University of Bath and use the world-class laboratory facilities and expertise at the Centre for Integrated Bioprocessing Research to develop and test their innovative new products.
Here they can try out their prototype thin-film bioplastics under a range of conditions that show how they would perform and degrade in the real-world. The University is free to publish their own research findings from some of these experiments through a formal Collaboration Agreement.
This project will have huge environmental benefits. It aims to develop proven alternatives to the single-use plastic packaging, derived from fossil-fuels, that is increasingly found littering our streets, countryside and waterways.
Over a million tonnes of plastic film is used in the UK each year, around half of which is on consumer products, and only 1% is being recycled. Therefore, as demand continues to grow for this type of packaging, particularly on short-lived food and non-food items, both consumers and manufacturers are pushing for a better option.
The government has recently announced a ban on single-use plastics, to come into effect from October 2023, which adds further urgency to the need to bring alternative light weight packaging solutions to the market.
“This project....presents an opportunity to disrupt the packaging market with a fully-recyclable alternative to single-use plastics. The grant has come at the right time for us to help manufacturers and food suppliers meet the ban on single-use plastic packaging with robust, customised solutions.”
With customers pushing for functional prototypes, the Business Innovation Fund grant has been used to help take an existing, lab-scale proof of concept towards a full, commercial prototype.
Kelpi have developed a way to produce ‘programmable’ thin film bioplastic coatings and these are now being added to paper for packaging products. In the right combination, the paper gives tensile strength (and can be printed on for branding and product information) while the bio-film coating provides the requisite gas, moisture, acid or oil resistant barrier for the specific use.
The robustness of the product and any negative effects of contact time with e.g. food materials need to be thoroughly tested and validated. The prototypes are aimed at the needs of potential customers so will be tested iteratively against their performance criteria to confirm these formulations are commercially viable.
Work will also be done to explore the manufacturing processes required to scale up production, and to understand how the coated paper could be treated in the paper recycling stream.
The project was at the perfect stage of experimental R&D for this funding as it was moving from the laboratory to real-world testing of a prototype project to meet customer needs. The aims of the business are for Clean Growth, which aligns with UK government Grand Challenges and the West of England Climate and Ecological Strategy and Action Plan.
In their application, Kelpi were able to describe how they would address a global need with a specific solution, and gave a multi-level perspective on this.
They understood the competitive landscape and how their new products could give them an advantage. They were bringing leading-edge advances in biochemistry into play, enhancing the programmable nature of bioplastic to find the correct formulation for a specific use that would be fit for purpose.
The knowledge and strengths of the team provided confidence that they could deliver the necessary R&D. As important was a comprehensive breakdown of work packages and a strong sense that there would be professional project management with the use of agile techniques and collaborative working.
The application also showed a clear understanding of IP management and the role this would play in safeguarding their early-stage, knowledge-based business.
Kelpi Co-Founder Murray Kenneth says:
“This project has demonstrated that Kelpi’s success in developing thin-film bioplastics is highly transferable to the coatings sector. Fully functioning product prototypes have been produced in the laboratory using different grades of paper and card as the substrate, delivering highly tuneable gas, moisture, grease, and acid barrier properties suitable for a range of applications in both food and non-food applications.
This presents an opportunity to disrupt the packaging market with a fully-recyclable alternative to single-use plastics.
The grant has come at the right time for us to help manufacturers and food suppliers meet the ban on single-use plastic packaging with robust, customised solutions. The next stage for us is to seek approvals from the Food Standards Agency for any novel products that will be in contact with food, and to grow our business following a successful investment round.”