Bags made out of fungi. Concrete walls lined with moss. An alternative to milk fat that makes plant-based protein taste creamy. We might just start hearing more about these innovations in 2022, says Maurits Burgering, program director at the Thematic Technology Transfer Program – Circular Technology (TTT-CT). One of the TTT programs was initiated by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.
The Netherlands wants an economy free of waste by 2050, as the Dutch government’s Circular Economy program stipulates. By 2030, the use of primary raw materials such as minerals, metals and fossils, should already be halved. “At the rate that we’re going now, that’s not going to happen,” says Burgering.
According to Burgering, the difficult thing about circularity is that it is more complicated to quantify. “With CO2, the emissions are still measurable. With an innovative pharmaceutical concept, you can calculate how many patients you would like to reach and what it should cost. You can almost predict what it will be worth. But with circularity, you are dependent on suppliers and buyers. At each switch point, there has to be something in it for the next switch point. It’s almost like a perpetual motion device that you’re trying to keep moving.”
Burgering wants to support researchers – potential entrepreneurs – within the TTT-CT program to take their research ideas to the next level. “I’ve always felt that there is a lot of knowledge and expertise in universities that doesn’t always make it into society. It takes some extra steps to get there. Particularly at that very early stage. A small financial injection can then act as a catalyst.”
The TTT-CT program is a partnership between the four technical universities in the Netherlands (4TU), the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the Dutch venture capital fund SHIFT Invest. The program supports researchers with a so-called ‘ticket’, a small budget to work on proof of concept or business development, and then a convertible loan from the fund. This allows them to take their research ideas to the next stage, validate them and, for instance, set up a spin-off. In addition to Circular Technology, the consortium is focusing on Smart Industry and Medical Technology with Innovation Industries as the venture capital fund.
“What strikes me every time is that there is such a tremendous drive among these young researchers to really want to make a difference in the world. They don’t just go for a nice career to end up somewhere in management. They choose this route filled with energy and passion. When they get a ticket from me, they will spend that money very carefully. They squeeze the maximum out of it to advance their ideas.”
For the year ahead, Burgering sees potential in all the innovations – approximately 40 scouted cases, with 20 in the pipeline – that the program is actively supporting. He has singled out a few that he hopes will actually find their way to the market in 2022.
Like Respyre. In an earlier interview IO had with this spin-off, founder and CEO, Mark de Kruijff mentioned that the company “wants to make cities b to breathe again.” The start-up is developing a bioreceptive concrete product that stimulates the growth of moss. By doing this, it wants to turn cities into urban landscapes. “Aside from the numerous benefits, it just looks beautiful. This technology has really stolen my heart. I sincerely hope they become successful,” Burgering says.
Whether greenery, as opposed to concrete, will help cities breathe in 2022 depends on a multitude of factors. “In the construction world, this entails major investments. Then you don’t ‘just simply introduce something new’. There’s a risk of things going wrong.” The start-up has a pilot running at the Marine Terrain in Amsterdam. For this, the team is working with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), Wageningen University & Research (WUR), and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).
Burgering: “I hope that by 2022, they will have mastered the technology. That the pilots prove to be successful and that people become just as enthusiastic about it as I am. If it works out, then we will look at our cities in a completely different way.”
Burgering also cites the Time Travelling Milkman as an innovation to keep an eye on, and not just because of its ‘fantastic name.’ “You really saw this team pick up the pace after they received an investment. It’s all about the right timing, you have to know how to tune into the team. Those young entrepreneurs can choose from a lot of options to pursue their careers. Waiting a long time for funding is usually not one of them.”
Time Travelling Milkman founders Dimitris Karefyllakis and Costas Nikiforidish have developed a plant-based fat product that tastes as creamy as, e.g., dairy products. They extract fat globules from the cells in sunflower seeds, for instance.
Read more about the origins of the WUR spin-off here.
Burgering: “Protein transition is a very important element when it comes to sustainability. Everyone is working on new proteins. But it’s precisely that fat part, that creamy taste, that makes dairy products so appetizing. This start-up has found a sweet spot in that protein transition that nobody else has thought of yet.”
The start-up also received co-funding from the regional development agency OOST NL in 2021. “They are developing at a furious pace. Faster than they had expected, they are now in the next phase. That’s great to see. In 2022, they aim to show that they can produce a thousand liters and that they can scale up.”
”A case of “fun factor” is what Burgering calls Mylium mold-based leather. “Bags made from that material are now on display in the Bijenkorf department store.” The start-up was given a ticket in 2021. The team is using that to work on the proof of concept. “If you see where they were and are now, their progression has been tremendous.”
There are, according to Burgering, several parties that are making imitation leather from fungi. Those parties work with so-called solid state fermentation. “That is less scalable. Mylium works with liquid fermentation. You can then pump that into larger fermenters (devices in which microorganisms are grown under controlled conditions, such as temperature and oxygen, ed.). Major brands, such as Hermès, have already shown interest. If Mylium gets through this phase, it could become huge.”
With enthusiasm, Burgering mentions another innovation that could well become huge: Nature’s principles.. A spin-off from TU Delft that is working on a biobased plastic substitute made of polylactic acid (PLA) from the building block lactate. “Again, there are more parties that are making this. The costs to use it are still high. With the method used by Nature’s Principles, the costs can come down.”
In addition to the support from TTT-CT, other parties are signing up to help the Start-up progress further. “There is an angel investor on board, but also the regional development agencies are starting to step in. They think it might be interesting to welcome such a company to their region.”
Last but not least, Burgering cites Susphos,, which makes high quality bio-based flame retardants and specialized fertilizer products from phosphate-rich wastewater derived from agriculture, among other things. The start-up won the Rabo Innovation Award in late 2020. Burgering: ” This is a venture that is not linked to any of the four technical universities or to TNO. Our ambition is for TTT-CT to eventually grow into a national platform that is accessible to everyone. So that we can help bring even more innovations to the market, which is sorely needed to make the circular economy really take off.”
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