Speeding innovation for industry
Could the macroalgae that have become so invasive in certain coastal areas be a source of raw materials for a bio-based plastic? Startup Eranova, founded in 2016, is doing just that. The process being utilized by Eranova was initially developed by CEVA*, and Eranova's founders turned to the CEA Tech microalgae lab in the south of France for the technical assistance, partners, and testing ground they needed to turn the process into an industrial-scale demonstrator.
For the algae to produce sufficient quantities of starch, the growing conditions have to be exactly right in terms of nutrients and light, for example. Optimizing the process can push starch content from less than 10% to around 40%. This starch can be used to produce flexible or rigid plastics that can be recyclable or biodegradable, and odorless and colorless. These plastics are similar to those produced from corn or wheat starch with one main difference: Algae is not a food crop. Production of Eranova's biosourced polymer, called AlgX, is slated to begin soon at a facility in the Fos-sur-Mer industrial port. The innovation is patented in 30 countries.
Eranova will continue to work with CEA Tech's microalgae lab. Up next: Research on a more technical aspect of the process with the goal of producing starch from microalgae. Much higher starch content can be obtained on microalgae than on macroalgae. And the more starch there is, the easier it is to extract and purify it.
*An algae research and transformation lab
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.