Innovation Awards

How a Stevie® Awards Winner Turns Carbon Into Plastic

Posted by Maggie Gallagher on Wed, Mar 05, 2014 @ 11:46 AM

Newlight Technologies, in Irvine, California USA won a Gold Stevie® Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year in the Company/Organization awards categories of The 2013 American Business Awards. (The deadline for The 2014 American Business Awards, the premier business awards in the USA, is March 26.  Get your Entry Kit here.)  We asked Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight, to tell us about his company’s transition from concept to commercial viability.

NewlightThese days, the general consensus is that plastic is a bad thing: it’s made from oil; it generates carbon emissions; and it chokes our environment with pollution. Even bioplastics, which are derived from food crops like corn, are perceived as being only slightly less bad and perhaps generating less environmental damage.

But what if plastic could actually improve the environment? Can we imagine a world in which, the more plastic we make, the better the environment becomes?

Newlight Technologies was founded in 2003 with a simple mission: to pull carbon out of the air and use that carbon to produce high-performance, cost-effective, carbon-negative plastic. The company’s guiding philosophy then, as it is today, is that the most sustainable way to reverse climate change is to turn carbon emissions into materials that can out-compete existing oil-based materials on price, thereby creating a market-driven solution to reduce atmospheric carbon.

The Cost Challenge
Despite the conceptual simplicity of this founding principle, the science to make it a reality had never been achieved, despite decades of work.

The critical challenge was cost. Prior to Newlight, the cost of producing plastic from air-bound carbon was three times higher than the cost of producing plastic from oil—an economic non-starter. Newlight’s task was to invent technology to dramatically lower the cost of converting carbon emissions into plastic.

After many years of work, endless obstacles, and millions of dollars in research and development, the researchers at Newlight finally achieved a core breakthrough: an engineered biocatalyst able to produce plastic from carbon gas at extremely high yield—approximately nine times higher than anything that had been achieved previously.

With this breakthrough, Newlight’s process economics changed dramatically.

Today—ten years, ten patents, and $10 million after its founding—Newlight Technologies is proud to be the first company in the world to manufacture and sell carbon-negative plastic.  Their AirCarbon™ is a plastic that reduces the concentration of carbon in air, matches the performance of oil-based plastic, and can significantly out-compete oil-based plastic on price.

Growing Demand
In 2012, Newlight commenced selling carbon-negative plastics for the first time, generating the company’s first revenues from the sale of carbon-negative plastics.  In 2013, to meet growing demand, Newlight achieved a breakthrough milestone in scaling up the company's AirCarbon production technology to commercial scale at a multi-acre production site in California: a four-story facility with a multi-million pound per year nameplate production capacity, using air and captured methane-based carbon to produce AirCarbon. 

In November of 2013, furniture-maker KI introduced the first product made from AirCarbon to the market: the world's first carbon-negative chair made from the AirCarbon carbon-capture process.

With the commercial scale-up complete and product moving to market, demand for AirCarbon has grown dramatically, with over 12.5 million pounds of AirCarbon under executed letter of intent to purchase.  Newlight’s customers and product development partners include some of the largest manufacturers in the world—including multiple Fortune 500 companies and brand-name market leaders—making everything from chairs and containers to caps and bags, products that will actually reduce the amount of carbon in the air.

The Potential to be Momentous
On being presented with the Steve Award for Most Innovative Company, Mark Herrema, CEO and co-founder of Newlight, said: “After ten years of work to bring AirCarbon to market, we are honored and delighted to receive this award, which is a testament to the exceptional dedication and skill of our entire team."

Continued Mark: “We believe the impact of Newlight’s carbon-negative plastic has the potential to be momentous. With this material, we have a tool to capture carbon from the air, use that carbon to displace carbon that would otherwise come from oil, reduce the cost to produce plastics, and drive carbon capture on a market-driven basis. Our mission now is simple: to grow as quickly as we can.”

About Mark Herrema:
Since co-founding Newlight in 2003, Mark has grown the company from a scientific concept into a revenue-generating commercial enterprise. Newlight is capturing carbon that would otherwise be a part of the air to produce award-winning, carbon-negative plastics. Along the way, Mark has invented a range of greenhouse gas-to-plastic conversion technologies, receiving ten US and international patents while steering Newlight through over $10 million in private placement offerings; executing a range of strategic partnerships with brand-name market leaders; and leading the engineering, construction, and expansion of Newlight’s carbon-capture production platform.

Mark graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Political Theory, with additional work in Physics, Mathematics, and Chemistry.

About Newlight Technologies:
Newlight Technologies is a sustainable materials company dedicated to using carbon-capture technology to produce clean, high-performance materials that maintain performance, reduce cost, and displace oil with carbon that would otherwise become a part of the air.

Founded in 2003, Newlight has invented, patented, and commercialized AirCarbon™, a material made from air and captured carbon that can match the performance of oil-based plastics while out-competing on price, representing a market-driven solution to carbon capture.  AirCarbon is currently being used to manufacture furniture, bags, caps, and a variety of other products, with partners including Fortune 500 companies and brand-name market leaders.

In recognition of the company's technological and commercialization achievements, Newlight was named "Most Innovative Company of the Year" in 2013, and AirCarbon was named "Biomaterial of the Year" and  "Tech Innovation of the Year" in 2013.  Newlight also received a R&D 100 Award for AirCarbon in 2013 as "one of the 100 most technologically significant innovations of the year."

Tags: American business awards, stevie awards, innovation awards, newlight technologies, carbon emissions