The Next Big Thing in CleanTech

Michiel van Deursen, Founder, Capital V

Michiel van Deursen, Founder, Capital V

Soon after selling my first company to eBay, I was all of a sudden a ‘man without a mission’. I felt lost, and lacked direction I had had all my life before this point. I knew one thing - that I wanted to add some value to the world. I am from the first generation of internet pioneers who believed they could change the world and defy established rules, so it was already within me to pursue more. 

I had no idea where to start. In the beginning I decided to look for start-ups that worked on solar energy, in Africa or even charities that needed help. I missed the total disruption that I was used to, something that changed the system, not just a part of it. 

I knew myself by now, and I knew I had to take a step back for a while to clear my mind, and delve deeper into what I could put my focus in. My years of hard work and little rest, and not looking after myself physically, resulted in me being extremely unhealthy. I didn’t feel good in myself. So, I googled what the biggest goal for the body is, and decided I would take on an Ironman - never one to shy away from a challenge. I also simultaneously decided I would travel the world, to train in the most epic places on earth, and embarked on a trip that shaped my future direction. 

Before this point, I never considered myself to be a conscious consumer. Believing the best I could do was to recycle here and there. During my travels, I came to understand the impact we all have on the planet. How everything each of us do is connected. How we exploit earth, destroy life, and how animal agriculture is at the forefront of all of this exploitation. 

Imagine a world where there is plenty of nature. Wildlife everywhere. Biodiversity instead of monoculture. Where the air is clean and the water too. No more climate change and much less suffering for both humans and animals. This is all a lot more within reach when we take animals out of the production system. 

78 percent of all land is used to feed animals. Rainforests are destroyed to feed animals. Ocean’s are emptied to feed land animals. For every 7 kilos of animal feed, we generate 1 kilo of meat. And a lot of pollution, greenhouse gasses, antibiotics, and other things we don’t need. Humans do not need all this. There are so many alternative, cleaner options. 

I had found my space, and ignited a passion. I had one simple focus, take as many animals out of the production process. At first I focused on Foodtech, after all that is where animal products are the most visible. I loved getting to know what was happening, and meeting so many inspiring startups and entrepreneurs. After a few successful exits in that space, I discovered a new category, often overlooked but highly interesting. Did you know that each kilogram of leather uses approximately 17,000 litres of water? That leather makes up for about 10 percent of revenue of the animal agriculture industry?

There is no catchy name for it yet, so we call it ‘NextGen Materials’, or ‘Bio-Based Materials’. Materials are used everywhere, in fashion, furniture, construction and the car industry. And they are often animal based, think of all the things that use leather… The most polluting industries even without taking the animal use into account. Alternatives are entering the market rapidly, but they are mostly plastic based,which is also bad for the planet.

There are many companies working in this space, to remove both animals and plastics from the materials industry. Following the Foodtech industry, scientists and entrepreneurs all over the world are now working on new materials solutions, made from plants. Often Bcorps, and rethinking the full supply chain. 

Companies like Pinatex, who are making pineapple leather using leaves from pineapple production that farmers usually set on fire. Pinatex buys these, extracts the fibres and gives back the rest, which is a highly fertile solution farmers can use for their land. Or Natural Fibre Welding, using local waste streams to create plastic free biodegradable. These products are biodegradable. Perfect examples of the circular economy. 

The material space even has someone I’d like to compare with Elon Musk, and not just because of the similar name… Eben Bayer, the engineer turned mushroom champion, makes many things using mycelium, the stuff mushrooms are made of: Packaging and construction materials (MycoComposite) with Ecovative, leather (MycoFlex), meat (Atlast) and now even bacon (with Atlast Food Co). 

There are start-ups like Mycotex, that mold the material immediately into the shape needed, skipping many steps compared to traditional manufacturing, where material is arriving in the shape of animals, and needs to be cut, stitched, and personalised, which is not practical at all.

Most companies in the space are active in leather, like in meat—the burgers came first. There are however many others working on alternatives for wool, silk, down, fur and exotic skins. Next to plant based and mycelial technologies, other techniques used are microbial cultivation, precision fermentation (Modern Meadow), and cell cultivation, like Qorium by Mark Post (he made the first cell based burger). 

Investors are slowly entering the space. Not so long ago, they only had eyes for Foodtech, and now investor platforms like have their own categories and events for bio based material start-ups to connect with interested investors, it makes the space so much more accessible and allows these start ups to get noticed straight away. 

To learn more, there is an amazing initiative from the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), who are focusing on bringing all the players in this new industry together. Their motto is “We are living in the next industrial revolution. This time it will be a clean one”. That says it all.

Weekly Brief

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