June 16, 2023
Image credit: Courtesy of Kelpy
Kelpy is an Australian startup that makes bioplastic pellets from algae. This is a good thing. Here’s why.
In an age of climate blues and eco-anxiety, Australia’s emerging ‘deep tech’ startups are delivering science-based solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. Two dozen Australian deep tech startups will showcase their world-changing innovations at the upcoming Cicada x Tech23 conference, Australia’s longest running annual deep tech conference.
Among them is Fionnuala Quin, founder and CEO of Kelpy, a startup that makes bioplastic pellets from seaweed. These bio-derived granules can replicate soft and rigid plastics, from sachets and films to shampoo bottles, food containers, cosmetic packaging and much more. But the icing on the cake is that Kelpy algae pellets can be used in existing machines.
“The pellets can be dropped into standard plastic manufacturing equipment and be injection molded or extruded into blown films, so we can create both rigid and flexible applications,” explains Fionnuala. “That was kind of the big breakthrough.”
This means manufacturers don’t need to upgrade or replace their equipment, just swap their fossil fuel-derived plastic pellets for the Kelpy algae alternative.
Since its launch in March 2021, Kelpy has attracted the attention of manufacturing giants Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever. Fionnuala’s team is currently conducting commercial trials with Palmolive to ensure the technology is suitable for the market.
“We have been working with the (Palmolive) technical teams since the end of last year to test our innovation in an industrial environment, to validate that we can scale using traditional molds and equipment,” she says. “Our team has come a long way very quickly. We’ve had tremendous success in advancing the science, but one of the challenges is making sure we have partners ready to provide the volumes required for a new material like this.
Kelpy uses regeneratively grown or invasive algae. The material is ethically sourced from around the world, with Fionnuala flying out to meet partners and see how the seaweed is grown and harvested.
“It’s exciting because (seaweed) is available everywhere in coastal communities,” she says. “We focus specifically on low-cost and abundant algae, including invasive algae and those that are easy to cultivate and grow in communities. Many algae are high-value foods in the food industry, so their consumption would cause food safety issues.
Alongside replacing plastic, Kelpy works to improve coastal communities by ensuring value chains are fair and equitable. It’s an area that fascinates Fionnuala, herself the daughter of a fisherman who grew up in a small crayfishing town in Western Australia.
On July 26, 2023, Fionnuala will present at the Cicada x Tech23 conference in Sydney. It will be joined by 22 other deep tech startups, from more than 130 applications across Australia.
“Deep Tech” are companies whose business models are centered on significant advances in science or engineering. They have the potential to disrupt the market by combining radical innovations – nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and much more – with courageous ideas, from ending waste to building more sustainable and biodiverse cities.
“To truly understand the impact of deep tech projects, we need to think systematically, not by technology niche or individual industry sector,” says Sally-Ann Williams, CEO of Cicada Innovations. “These companies often use or develop innovations in areas such as AI, biotechnology, robotics, quantum, and it is rare for these innovations to have applications in a single sector, such as aerospace or medicine… At Cicada x Tech23 we want to inspire this. meaningful conversation and asking questions that push us all to dream big, imagine new holistic approaches, and think in systems, not silos.
Other startups at the conference include Samsara Eco – whose enzyme-based technology can break down plastics – and Kapture, which has developed carbon capture and storage technology that can be scaled to 120 million commercial diesel generators.
For more information on the event, visit cicadainnovations.com/cicada-x-tech2