We interact with petrol-based polymers with nearly everything we do. Dr. Bret Chisholm, a Senior Research Scientist at NDSU and co-founder of Renuvix, walked the audience through an average morning with polymers during his presentation at last week’s 1 Million Cups Fargo:
In the shower, shampoo and body wash use polymers to thicken and lather up. The plastic of a toothbrush uses polymers, as do the nylon bristles. In the average car, anything from the seat cushion to the paint job involves polymers.
“Polymers are a huge part of our society,” Chisholm said. “Unfortunately, over 90% of all polymers are derived from oil and gas.”
Oil, as we know, will not sustain. Eventually the chemical industry is going to need to re-vamp, and find out how to make the things we use today from new materials, Chisholm said.
With his recently started company Renuvix, Chisholm and his team are pursuing that goal through two platforms. Both platforms are based at NDSU, and focus on using plant oils and/or sugar to make polymers that can be used to replace petrol-based polymers. They also provide properties that can’t be obtained with petrol-based polymers.
“Our business is to supply polymers to other companies that can then formulate them into a huge array of products,” Chisholm said.
He had with him a few samples of products currently being commercialized; a scratch-resistant glossy coating that is a reaction product of sugar and soybean, a plant oil polymer that is used as processing oil for rubbers, and a waxy material used with vinyl sidings and PVC pipes, for example.
For the latter in particular, Renuvix has one customer that uses about 2.8 million pounds a year as an additive for plastics, Chisholm said.
One of their more popular breakthroughs was when they discovered a soy-based polymer for shampoo that not only gave it a nice lather effect, but also proved to be very effective at cleaning and conditioning as well. They published an article on their findings in the Journal of Cosmetic Science, and have since received press on their work.
Renuvix has multiple patents pending on their work. Chisholm himself already holds 40 U.S. patents. Now, they are beginning their scale up process.
“We have been successfully running the process at the 10 liter scale. Next week we will be running at the 1,500 gallon scale. Then we’ll go to the 10K gallon scale,” Chisholm said.
The clock is ticking; if they can get a particular material scaled up and produced by June, Chisholm said they have two customers, for which Renuvix is the only supplier, that can secure 3 million pounds worth of business.
What it will take is investments. Chisholm said they have shares set aside for investors, and have in fact already received some investment.
“Unfortunately all the investors we’ve had so far have been outside North Dakota,” Chisholm said. “And we are qualified with the state to provide a seed capital investment, which is quite a nice incentive for investing.”
They are currently looking to raise $300K in investments.
“We’re buying raw materials and burning through cash pretty quickly,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.