Creating Value from Recycled Waste

mobius

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action 15. Life on Land 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

mobius is a US company that uses lignin, a waste generated from paper mills and bio-refineries at a scale of 100 million tonnes per year around the world, together with other bio-polymers, to produce pelletized plastic resin, the currency of plastic industry, to be used in different products. The current focus is to produce biodegradable plastic flower pots for the horticulture industry.

Authors

Navpreet Sharma

Navpreet Sharma

MARCOS SIMAIKA

MARCOS SIMAIKA

School

TIAS School for Business and Society

TIAS School for Business and Society

Professor

Mirjam Minderman

Mirjam Minderman

Innovation

“There’s Wonder in Waste” – This is the message from mobius co-founder and Chief Science Officer Jeff Beegle to all the people in the world, and it rightly reflects the work and spirit of the company. With a strong background in science, Jeff holds a Bachelor degree in bio-engineering from the University of Toledo, Ohio and a Master degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. During the interview, Jeff explained that the innovation occurred as part of the PhD work of Tony Bova, co-founder and CEO of mobius. Throughout their studies, Tony and Jeff were always thinking of ways to translate their technical knowledge of converting waste into valuable products into a scalable business idea.

mobius is a US company that uses lignin, a waste generated from paper mills and bio-refineries at a scale of 100 million tonnes per year around the world, together with other bio-polymers, to produce pelletized plastic resin, the currency of plastic industry, to be used in different products. The current focus is to produce biodegradable plastic flower pots for the horticulture industry. This can help create a circular product in the horticulture industry, which consumes over 5 billion containers per year in the US. Additionally by working with waste from the paper industry, which plants million of trees every year, and using this waste to produce biodegradable plastics, the forestry industry can adopt new practices that could provide nutrients for the soil or the compost. mobius is working with established firms in the US and EU to share their expertise and collaborate internationally to develop their product.

By doing this, the company is actively contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 9 – Industry Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation; Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Goal 13 – Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy; Goal 15 – Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss; and Goal 17 – Partnership for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Creating Value from Recycled Waste

Inspiration

Having been deeply impacted after learning and understanding about climate change through a Physics course in his undergraduate degree at University of Toledo, Ohio, Jeff says that “climate change became the one problem he could not ignore.” Both Jeff and Tony, who were taking courses in sustainability and renewable energy, noticed the growing occurrence of algae blooms in Lake Erie, along their city of Toledo, located in the Great Lakes region. With a group of other students, they tried to raise funds to develop new technologies to counter these environmental problems and entered a pitch competition, but were unsuccessful. Despite not winning, this was when they realized that entrepreneurship was a way to bring new technologies to the world and to make an impact. Both of them went on to graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Jeff for his MS in Microbiology and Tony for his PhD in Energy Science and Engineering. Both also took courses in entrepreneurship and business management during their graduate studies to gain knowledge to start their own company.

Overall impact

“The fact that we were able to start a company just from an idea is a big thing. We were able to travel to conferences and really participate with other companies on global scale, such as events with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Even though we are just a start-up at a pre-revenue stage developing our first product, we’re part of a global movement to make more sustainable materials. Last year, we signed a global commitment through the New Plastics Economy, with companies like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Pepsi Co – so we feel like we can actually change the world” says Jeff, explaining about how the established firms are joining in and collaborating with start-ups to make an impact.

The current focus on biodegradable plastic flower pots can help create a circular product in the horticulture industry, which consumes over 5 billion containers per year in the US. Additionally by working with waste from the paper industry, which plants million of trees every year, and using this waste to produce biodegradable plastics, the forestry industry can adopt new practices that could provide nutrients for the soil or the compost.

The impact of mobius is twofold: first, it adds value to the lignin which returns to the soil and provides nourishment instead of being used as a fuel, and second, it decreases the use of petroleum to produce the plastic.

Business benefit

mobius is partnering with companies in the horticulture industry and is currently “developing the our first products and are using the materials we’ve produced to test with, hopefully, our first customers,” says Jeff.

“As our product is made out of lignin, which can only be degraded by bacteria and fungi living in the soils, we expect our product to have a good shelf life”, says Jeff. As lignin protects plants from UV, it also may help shelf life stability of the products when they are exposed to sunlight. In the future, mobius is interested in consumer products and packaging, with a larger vision to develop new technologies to produce renewable materials, chemicals, and energy from other organic waste streams for a range of other industries.

As mobius uses a proprietary process developed during Tony’s PhD, the company has the know-how and is hence able to develop a distinct and more sustainable product.

Through their work and collaboration, mobius (previously Grow Bioplastics) has been able to get government research grants and has also hired a full-time employee recently and is working with many interns as they grow.

Social and environmental benefit

By reducing the amount of waste in the form of lignin produced by paper mills and biorefineries, which would otherwise be burned, and converting it into biodegradable plastic that shall provide nourishment to the soil as it degrades, mobius is able to develop a circular economy product and help both, the society and nature.

The company is also going to conferences like the annual Innovator’s Roundtable meeting of the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) (an NPO in US with global reach), where many members in the supply chain of the chemical industry come together for innovating and collaborating, and hence inspiring others to follow.

Although mobius does not yet have a B-Corp certification, it has adopted the company structure of a Public Benefit Corporation - a hybrid between a for-profit and a non-profit, in which you include the environment and society as a stakeholder in your business. And as Jeff say, “essentially, Mother Nature has a seat on our board.”

Interview

Jeff Beegle, Chief Science Officer

Photo of interviewee

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mobius

mobius

Knoxville, Tennessee, US

Business Website: https://www.mobius.co/

Year Founded: 2016

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

mobius is a US based company that uses organic waste, such as lignin from paper mills and bio-refineries, as feed stock for new materials. They use lignin together with other bio-polymers, to produce a bio-based compound that is going to be used as an alternative to petroleum-based inputs for the plastic industry. This helps in two ways: first, it adds value to the lignin which returns to the soil and provides nourishment instead of being used as a fuel, and second, it decreases the use of petroleum to produce the plastic.