Beyond Plastics: Bioplastics and the Future of Eco-Friendly Preservation Technology

Beyond Plastics: Bioplastics and the Future of Eco-Friendly Preservation Technology

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Tom Raftery: Hi everyone. Welcome To the Digital Supply Chain podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, and with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Federico. Federico, welcome to the podcast.

Would you like to introduce yourself? Federico Trotta: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having me, Tom. I'm Federico. I'm the CEO and Co-founder of Metalchemy, a nano technology startup based in London. And super lovely to to to be here.

Tom Raftery: Fantastic. Federico. That's not a strong London accent. I'm hearing there. Federico Trotta: Yes.

I'm Italian. I'm originally Italian from, from Rome. But we all, my family lives in the UK since 2002, 2003. It was long time ago. Tom Raftery: Okay.

You haven't lost the accent. Federico Trotta: no, no, no, no, no, no. At home, we speak Italian. That's why Tom Raftery: Fantastic. Fantastic. And your startup Metalchemy.

What's that about? Federico Trotta: So, . We are a London-based startup focused on developing innovative solutions using our patented nanotechnology in order to reduce the impacts of climate change. One of the first problems that we tackled was the scourge of synthetic plastics throughout the food supply chain, as well as the increase the food waste that we experience on our daily basis.

At a global level that's around a trillion dollars every year wasted on food waste alone, and as well as all the plastic waste going with that food waste, as well as contributing up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So it's both a massive economic as well as environmental and social issue that we're tackling through our nanotechnology. So how does it work? So we invented a way to basically exemttend food shelf ife by killing off the bacteria and fungi and viruses causing the root cause of food degradation.

We embed these nanomaterials within different packaging materials. It could be plastics, papers, bioplastics, and as a consequence, you get increased food shelf life which we tested for in our laboratories. Tom Raftery: Nice.

Nice. How did you come up with this? As in, you know, what made you think to yourself, I think I should tackle food waste. Federico Trotta: Yeah, so I think the idea came about from personal experience. I, it was around Christmas time a year and a half ago, and we just purchased a strawberry pot from, from the local supermarket and just a couple of days later, it was all moldy. I wanted, I really wanted those strawberries actually. Love strawberries.

With some cream and then instead I found them fully mouldy. And that really like led my thought process to go through am I really the only one having this issue? And, and then I researched more and more around this topic and I realized actually it's a massive global. economic issue that everybody experiences. I'm not the only one who has this issue. And therefore I thought, okay, cool. How could I prevent this waste from happening in the first place? And it was, you know, to an extent, how can I eat the strawberries, I purchased a couple of days ago, so, you know, so that, that was really the rationale behind it, was like I experienced this problem as a consumer, as an end user in, in the industry, and that led me to develop the technology further in this direction..

Tom Raftery: Okay. I've had similar experiences, but I would have no idea how to go about creating a nanomaterial, which reduces food spoilage. How did you know how to go about this? Federico Trotta: Yeah, so basically Metalchemy, I, I founded Metalchemy four years and a half ago, and it was in the middle of, of my founder process that I came across this issue. And I also patented a way of making greener nanoparticles. And these nanoparticles have novel properties such as anti-microbial activity, which can be applied to prevent food waste. So I connected both the technology I had in the company and the real life problem I experienced as a consumer.

And that's how it came about. I'm a, I'm really, really passionate about everything dealing with nanomaterials and nanotechnology, and I think it's really something which can have, mass tremendous impact on society, positive impacts overall. Tom Raftery: Okay.

And how have you learned about nano materials? Is are you a material scientist? Is this is something you, you have worked on or are working on in university? You know, tell me something about your background there. Federico Trotta: Yeah, of course. So as background, I come from a really technical background. I'm a chemical engineer. Most people don't know what a chemical engineer is, but it's pretty much a fusion between a chemist, a physicist, a scientist, a biologist. We do a little bit of everything as chemical engineers.

Everybody specializes in a different direction. By myself, I specialize mainly on bio processes, bioengineering, and developing novel ways of making things more efficient. So I really love efficiency and applying high efficiency processes throughout the supply chain. And throughout my university degree, and as well afterwards, I was looking for ways to, to having a positive impact on society as well as the environment.

And I came across nanomaterials and nano technologies. A big issue with these technologies there are, they've been developed in the past 30 years, is that they use very toxic, expensive chemicals to produce these nanomaterials and these nano technologies. And that was a massive issue for me, especially thinking about consumer applications, which were being blocked practically from commercialization because of these big barriers to the market. And therefore by, you know, going through like my own background and experience, I patented a novel way to make these nanomaterials, a greener way, which just uses plant extracts, completely eliminates all the toxic chemicals in the production process and therefore makes it much more safe for consumers and end user applications.

And we test it throughout even with scientific studies, and they are indeed more biocompatible, safer for humans, but are also more efficient against bacteria, fungi, molds, and therefore helps within the food preservation, system, which is the entire food supply chain efficiency process that goes from the producer down to the, to the consumer level, which is us at the end of, of the chain. Tom Raftery: Sure, sure, sure. And how does it work? What, what, what's in the nanomaterial that's antimicrobial and anti mold? And because molds are eukaryotes, bacteria are prokaryotes and virus are neither. So how do you, how you, how have you found something that kills all three? Federico Trotta: So basically silver is, has been known as an antimicrobial for thousands of years. Since ancient times, silver has been used by humans as an antimicrobial up until the 20th century when we discovered penicillin and antibiotics and then silver use declined massively because there was no need anymore for this class of antimicrobial anymore on the market, especially because it based on noble metal.

And at the beginning of the 20th century, they didn't have the knowledge we have now about nano technologies and now material. So the technology wasn't even that mature at the time despite centuries of, of knowing the, the antimicrobial properties of silver. And it basically works on different mechanisms, but the main one is interacting directly with the pathogen. The reproduction system and the energy pathways of the pathogen inhibiting them, as well as inducing mechanisms called r r s, which is the oxidative stress of the cell. Causing the disruption, the destruction of the microorganism, and therefore, you can help prolong the food shelf life.

Our aim is not to kill all the bacteria, all the fungi, all the viruses. Our aim is simply to delay the growth of these microorganisms on the food product, and therefore preserving it for longer as a consequence within packaged goods. Tom Raftery: Okay, and does this have any health impact on humans? Federico Trotta: So in terms of health impacts, it really depends. It goes back to the production process. It really depends on the stability of the material.

When it has been integrated within a different packaging product, it has been widely shown that green methods, which don't use the toxic chemicals are way safer and practically non-toxic compared to the actual chemical production methods. And this comes down to which chemicals you use in the first place making these nanomaterials because that carries through in to the end products. So what would say is that as long as you respect safety limits, as silver is being widely used in many other industries as well, it's completely safe. It's a natural compound. It's a noble metal.

It's relatively stable. So it's not something, you know, that would be considered unsafe from, from most regulatory agencies. Tom Raftery: Okay, and how are you applying it? My understanding is you embed it in the packaging of the food stuff, and that way it's not that you're coating the food in this, it's that you're coating the packaging in this, correct? Federico Trotta: Yes, a hundred percent.

That's super, super, super good explanation. So we embed it within the polymer material or you know, the packaging material more, more generally, that then is in contact with the foods. And therefore causing the, the antimicrobial surface activity. So we create a active packaging material, and it has many benefits compared to other technologies as you were mentioning.

For instance, spraying antimicrobials on top of the food themselves, which then are eaten by humans or using pesticides, antibiotics for, for the food preservations and, and avoiding certain parasites. Up to even putting, you know, on the vacuum and other preservation technologies, which all have their own limitations. The cool thing of this is that it's packed on the packaging on the actual polymer, so you're not making any modification on the actual food itself, which makes it for even better nutritional value reduction of, you know, pesticides which are being used in, in, in the production process. So there are many, many benefits in antimicrobial active packagings versus current technologies on the market.

Tom Raftery: Okay. And what's seeing as you speak of market, what's your route to market? Are you planning on manufacturing all this film or packaging yourself, or are you going to license it to others to do, or, you know, what? What's your plan there? Federico Trotta: So we work with different market players going from FTSE250 businesses down to SMEs and local brands in the uk within the food and drinks industry, mainly consumer goods which want to implement these antimicrobial additives for other supply chains. We have our own pilot production facilities based in London, but on a longer term prospect, we plan to partner up with packaging manufacturers throughout industry in order to integrate within their supply chains, the additive within their polymers, within their packaging materials, so they becomes universally adopted preservation technology. We won recently a Innovate UK grant funding to further develop these technologies as well as better optimized these for scale up. So we're very, very excited for you know, the commercialization of the technology throughout the, the food and drinks industry, as well as many other industries benefit. You know, getting a benefit out of this novel nanomaterial.

Tom Raftery: Okay. Before we get into the other industries, I, I'm curious because you and I we're both based in Europe, and we're looking at a European market, at least initially. Europe is known to be you know, quite tough in terms of regulations for particularly food and drink, but even more, in, even more broadly in general. But things we're talking about food and drink now, you know, how are European regulations for these kind of things going to impact you? Federico Trotta: So basically we, what we do as a company, we are extremely rigorous on quality controls, health and safety.

These are our priorities as a green business. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we prioritize this as number one, as a business and now and as we grow. So what we do is complying with all the different directives from the European Commission, which has really detailed safety limits.

But the, the easiest one published for silver as an antimicrobial is the 50 microgram per kilogram of foods migration. So there is a safety limit of how much silver can go from the foods packaging to any foods, and that's around 50 micrograms per kilogram of food products. As long as you're underneath this safety limit, there is no issue with the silver, it's practically, it's, it's such a low concentration that it's practically nothing. Even if it did migrate, it would've zero effect to any human being whatsoever.

And on top of that, we did studies with University College London on human cells and seeing the interaction with our nanoparticles and looking at how it affected different human cells. And actually what we noticed on human cells, it promoted cell growth, not cell death, which was a really interesting result for us to have. So it's not only safe, it actually helps with tissue regeneration in, in some, you know. So it's actually a very cool and exciting technology for how much potential it could bring to, to humanity as a whole. Tom Raftery: Fascinating. And you mentioned other industries.

So apart from, you know, food packaging, what other potential use cases are you seeing for this? Federico Trotta: Yeah, so food and drinks packaging is pretty much for us an high volume, but relatively low sort of value added application due to the plastic industries and the bio plastics and all the packaging industries being products, which are sort of low value added products versus other industries. So we also develop high value, low quantity applications with our materials. So I was mentioning just before our studies with UCL where we're working on tissue regeneration for faster wound healing devices. So it's a medical device application that, that we've been developing to show how you can cure wounds or cure organs or internal lesions much faster using our silver nanoparticles as an antimicrobial because it still works on the same principle as it kills bacteria and fungi in foods.

It can even be used to kill bacteria and fungi and virus in human beings. So that's the medical aspect that we're developing and as well as the cosmetic aspect with antimicrobial antioxidant activities. So we have all sort of industry that we, we want to develop around these nanomaterials and nano technologies.

we also have product preservation, so a lot of products are prone to spoilage. And you, as we were discussing just now, the industry is facing higher and higher regulations in terms of what preservatives you can put in products to actually keep them stable in terms of shelf life, of the actual products themselves in the chemical industry. And this novel class of antimicrobial, green antimicrobial is an extremely promising development for the industry as a whole to, to be integrated even as basic product formulation preservative to avoid microbial growth within the formulations. Tom Raftery: Oh wow. Fascinating. And where to, I mean, next you've developed the packaging product.

You are working potentially with companies to, to roll it out. What are the kind of longer term plans for the company? Federico Trotta: I mean, We see Metalchemy becoming the leading business of everything, nanomaterials and nano technologies at a global scale. Right now, there isn't a single business which incorporates, you know, end user applications within the climate space, especially exploiting the power of nanomaterials and nano technologies. That's mainly because most of the nanotechnology sector has been mostly academic and low technology readiness level. Whereas with Metalchemy, we take a very proactive approach in moving out of the lab and actually going on the field and implementing the technology with commercial partners in real scenarios.

So to actually benefit society and having a positive impact on society at a national, but then even at a global scale. Tom Raftery: Okay. Superb. Superb. And you mentioned as well that you got a, a funding round.

Where are you now having landed that funding round? Where are you now in terms of funding? Are you going for another round now? Another round in six months, another round in a year? You know where? What are your plans there around funding? Federico Trotta: Yeah, I mean, so as a business, the cool thing of Metalchemy is that we are commercial to an extent with some of our products. So we're already making sales. We got grant funding as, as you just mentioned from Innovate UK. We won a 350,000 pound grant to develop these novel antimicrobials for food and drink preservation over the next few years, as well as got our latest investment from Catapult VC, which is a leading venture capital firm in Europe, just investing in climate and impact and ocean startups. So we've already got significant capital investments within the business.

Our next step is really to grow our customer pipeline and applications and processes in that respect. And then, in two years time, say a year and a half, two years time from now raising our series A to expand from the UK market as we're mostly focused on the UK market right now into more international markets where our product can have impact. Tom Raftery: Tremendous. Great. We're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Federico.

Is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about? Federico Trotta: I think an important aspect to think about is novel materials and novel materials, especially in the packaging industry. Lately we're seeing, you know, the reduction of single use plastics within the supply chain transitioning towards, plus of course, recycled materials, multiple use materials, but these still have big limitations on the market, as most of the actual materials which are meant to be recycled, actually end up in landfill. Nevertheless, even if you put them in the recycling bins and most of the global population, unfortunately doesn't even have the recycling infrastructure required to actually process these materials and, and make them recyclable. And there are many other issues in the recycling industry, which I won't touch upon now.

So what's really interesting right now, we're seeing the development of biomaterials and bioplastics, which are completely compostable and, and others, even biodegradable, are a mixture of both in the industry which are extremely promising applications, especially those which are divided from biomasses or from natural sources and such as agars, celluloses, starches which are biomaterials, which can be used, to form bioplastics. I think the only limits of these novel bioplastics and biomaterials is that their properties still are not on par with synthetic packaging materials limiting their adoption. Under 1% of the plastics worldwide right now is bioplastics Tom Raftery: All right. Federico Trotta: being implemented.

So, and we have many goals to, of course, reducing microplastics and microplastics in the environment. I don't know if you have seen recently there were media articles on microplastics being in found in human blood, which is Tom Raftery: breast milk as well. Federico Trotta: Extremely, extremely concerning because it means, wow, it's not only in our environments now it's even within us, which is kind of scary when you start thinking about it. So, and, and as me talking, we've been working a lot actually on improving the properties of these biomaterials and bioplastics in order to match them with synthetic plastic materials. And that's all using our nano materials, our nano technologies, and that's what I really love What I really love about these nano materials is they're so versatile and the applications are pretty endless for them.

It's just about, you know, having, you know, the discovery process and actually understanding better how these materials behave within different other materials that, for instance, we noticed improvement in mechanical properties of the bioplastics, antimicrobial properties of the bioplastic membrane properties, and even hydrophobicity of the bioplastic itself, which is an extremely important property If you want to pack anything with that, you know, water content, so aside, dried food products, which is mainly the focus of biomaterials because of that big limitation, you cannot really commercialize them for most of the other moisture containing products. And that's something we want to overcome Tom Raftery: Okay, Federico Trotta: as a, as a barrier for, for these biomaterials with, with our tech. Tom Raftery: Sure. . In terms of bioplastics versus regular plastics, how are we doing? And I, I don't know the answer to this. I'm genuinely curious. How are we doing in terms, not of functionality, but in terms of price? Federico Trotta: Ah, That's a very good question.

So usually you can find on the market, depending on the synthetic plastic by the way, but let's say as average, they might cost from two times up to 10 times more expensive, then the synthetic equivalent. That's a massive barrier for commercialization, but there is a caveat in this. The caveat is that when you make these synthetic packaging from petro chemistry, for instance, you don't account for the environmental cost that you are actually putting onto the environment and putting onto the economy, and you are thinking just on the short term, what's the most cost effective now versus what's the most cost effective in the medium long-term horizon. So that's something consumers are becoming more and more aware about and actually start being sort of more elastic in terms of their pricing and being more adept onto, for instance, buying something which is multiple use. Based on a bioplastic or a biomaterial versus a single use polyethylene bag or a PET container that they just use and throw away. So these are a shift in consumer behavior that, that we're seeing, which comes not only in terms of, you know, the short term cost mentality, which is a very consumeristic mentality, which pushes you just to buy and, and you know, buy this car.

It's a very linear model to more circular models where you actually buy and reuse and or recycle or other sort of circularities, which are better for the environment, but also better for, for your personal economics. Because if you can reuse the same container, you don't need to purchase it multiple times and therefore you'll save money on the, on the medium long term and the environment. So you have double be in one as a, as a benefit. Tom Raftery: Nice, nice.

Another question has occurred to me in the meantime, and it's just this could be a very short answer or a longer one depending on whether, whether it's relevant or not. But there's a lot of buzz at the moment around AI, Generative AI, et cetera, and we're seeing a lot of it in the kind of medical space as well with the, with the release of. I've forgotten the name of the, the database now, but I think it was, it came out of Google. They released a database of all protein structures or all putative protein structures, for example. So I'm curious, is there any similar thing happening in your area or are you making use of AI in any way like that? Federico Trotta: So I think software integration go hand in hand with hardware based integrations to improve supply chain efficacy and processes and products. It's very intertwined as as you know, software solutions in finding actually better solutions quicker versus, for instance, having to have multiple experiments and doing them.

So it's, a lot of the stuff can actually be modeled through AI and do a lot of the groundwork through software-based solutions and that actually improves your efficiency significantly than when you actually go towards more experimental. So on the experimental and hardware side of things and actually developing the final products, final formulations for the end user. So I think it's a tool.

But it shouldn't be replacing, and it cannot really replace for now the experimental side of things because at the end, theories are good, but you need to test them in real life to make sure they work. Tom Raftery: Of course, of course. Cool, cool. Federico, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them? Federico Trotta: Yeah, so to our website, www dot metalchemy dot tech, so that's our website. All of our information is on there as well as our social media.

So we've got a very active LinkedIn page, and blog. So we just launched our medium blogs and we release them on a weekly basis, and that's where we release the top news on nano materials, nano technologies, any discoveries we've made, new funding, investment opportunities, you name it, it's a very interactive community we, we work with. And that's where we, you would find the latest on Metalchemy and our research and and development. Tom Raftery: Cool. Great.

Federico, that's been fascinating. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today. Federico Trotta: Thank you so much, Tom.

2023-11-15 20:17

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