Less waste, more circularity: Startups from 22 countries present their ideas in Circular Valley

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Circular Valley has invited young entrepreneurs from five continents to connect them with business leaders from the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany. This enables cooperation between startups and established companies.

An Indian team presents bottles made from paper waste. A Kenyan startup pitches a concept for sanitary pads made from agricultural waste and bioplastics. And a startup from Colombiaexplains how to make sustainable building materials from shoe soles. These are just three of the ideas that business representatives from the Rhine-Ruhr region got to know this week.

Carsten Gerhardt, Circular Valley
Carsten Gerhardt, Circular Valley

Circular Valley has invited 36 startups from 22 countries to Germany. Over the next three months, these startups will be supported in bringing their ideas to the market and in finding customers, partners and investors.

The time of linearity is over; we have to transition to circularity. And you are the fuel for this change

said Dr Johannes Kirchhoff in his keynote, executive director of the Circular Economy initiative of the Federation of German Industries.

Circular Valley is both the location and facilitator of these unique exchanges. Circular Valley lies in the heart of Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr region which is home to numerous traditional industrial companies. Now, it hosts Circular Economy startups from all over the world. The Circular Economy Accelerator ensures that these young companies gain the economic knowledge to take off and grow.

Moreover, it brings together these startups with potential partners from the local economy, who are looking for solutions to achieve greater sustainability. The circular economy is more than just recycling. The entire process from design to end-of-life needs to be restructured from a circularity perspective.

The great diversity of the audience at the Kick-Off in Wuppertal points to the high relevance of the topic to numerous industries. Executive-level representatives of small, medium-sized and large companies including CEOs from the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, raw material producers and waste disposal companies all followed the startups’ presentations.

Perine Fleury, Biosphere Solar, Netherlands
Perine Fleury, Biosphere Solar, Netherlands

The first two batches of Circular Valley’s accelerator program since early summer 2021 have successfully connected startups to partners. Among others, startups developing plastic-free envelopes or a method to collect plastic from waterways to avoid it reaching the ocean, have generated great interest across a wide range of stakeholders in Circular Valley.

Two representatives per startup can join the Circular Economy Accelerator program in Wuppertal. Most representatives have a background in engineering, sciences or programming. The goal now is to position their startup, establish a network and understand the needs of possible partners and customers.

The program supports the startups in further developing their products, manufacturing them on a larger scale, obtaining funds from investors or scaling their idea. In all of this, the large partner network of Circular Valley provides crucial support.

During the three-month accelerator program, the startups can connect to local stakeholders, take part in workshops and coaching sessions and visit Circular Valley partners on-site. The grand finale is Demo Day on September 9th.

The young entrepreneurs will then present in front of hundreds of representatives from business, science, politics and the public to show, how the time spent in Circular Valley has advanced their ideas.

Circular Valley Team and Startups, Summer 2022
Circular Valley Team and Startups, Summer 2022

Final Startups from 22 countries

AC Biode (Japan, Luxemburg, UK) developed a technology that upcycles coal or biomass ash into a new material called CircuLite.

Millions of tons of coal ash are sent to landfills. This can cost a power plant operator several hundreds of millions $ and thousands of tons of CO2 every year. CircuLite can be used in carbon capture, self-cooling concrete, soil improvement, water and air purification, face masks, and cleaning up oil spills. This allows power plants to lower their carbon footprint, and their costs, and create a circular economy.

AFTS (Germany) offers an Etherium-based track-and-trace SaaS solution to track material flows across the supply chain and provide insights into compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Governments (Germany, EU) and consumers are calling for more transparency in the highly complex global supply chain networks. The gained insights enable monitoring risk exposure, increase cost efficiency, and can be used for marketing and communication purposes.

Agricom (Lebanon) uses data analysis to improve crop allocation by predicting demand, reducing waste, and enabling farmers to sell imperfect products directly to food producers.

Large amounts of food produced today are wasted within the supply chain. The IT and AI-powered circular business model avoids redundancy and reduces environmental impact by reducing the number of intermediaries.

Agrobiogel (Austria) developed a bio-based, super water-absorbing hydrogel made from 100% wood processing residues.

Currently, the world is confronted with increasing hydroclimatic dangers, such as persistent droughts and heavy rainfalls. It stores and absorbs water from rain and irrigation, slowly releases it during dry periods, and contributes to soil fertility as it naturally decomposes within twenty years.

Ampliphi (the United States and Switzerland) helps companies to accelerate the circular economy by measuring their plastic footprint, connecting them with impact initiatives, and communicating their progress over time.

Solutions for a world without plastic waste exist, they simply need to be implemented and scaled.

BD-Waste (Ghana) brings recyclers and plastic collectors together via an online platform and app that organizes collection services.

The tool enables digital payment, thus increasing incentives for collecting and recycling plastic.

Bioferric (Spain) has developed a magnetic-microtechnology that is able to bind waste compounds to extract them out of the wastewater.

Industrial wastewater is often highly polluted. The extracted materials can be further used, sold, or even destroyed if they are not valuable.

Biomyc ltd. (Bulgaria) is an award-winning product design and innovation company that specializes in working with mycelium composite – a sustainable material made of mushroom roots and plants.

Biomyc explores various ways to combine the mycelium composite with other renewable materials or further enhance its properties to develop premium, next-gen eco-products for luxury and sustainable brands.

Biosphere Solar (Netherlands) is prototyping a circular and fair solar panel with a long lifetime, which can be refurbished, upgraded, and easily recycled at its end of life.

Independence from fossil fuels is becoming increasingly important. The production respects human rights throughout the supply chain and is fully open source.

Black Capture (Germany) offers a modular CO2 capture system mainly targeting unavoidable process emissions (CO2) like the cement industry.

The German industry emits millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalents annually, and to date, there is no commercial technology to capture these emissions. Unlike comparable solutions, Black Capture requires minimal maintenance, no chemical solutions, has low initial costs, and is more energy-efficient.

Blau (Mexico) offers an AI-based system helping companies to plan and optimize collection routes, monitor operations, and generate operational statistics.

Garbage collection in waste management companies is not optimized. This gives companies an overview of operations and reduces costs and resource consumption.

Borac Energia (Bangladesh) produces low-cost Li-ion batteries from recycled waste batteries. Hereby renewable energy becomes less costly for the end consumer.

Renewable energy growth is slow due to the high initial installation costs and short lifespan of lead-acid batteries.

CARBOLIQ (Germany) has developed a solution to regenerate this universal resource from mixed and contaminated plastics.

Closing the loop on plastics means closing the loop of hydrocarbons. It is a one-step process combining thermal, catalytic, and mechano-chemical mechanisms in a new and highly efficient way. The product will substitute fossil resources in existing industrial processes.

Circular11 (United Kingdom) has developed a brick made from plastic waste.

brick made from plastic waste

In emerging markets, 70 per cent of homes are built without sufficient knowledge of building materials, making many homes structurally insecure and leading to poor living conditions. Using agricultural by-products to make the plastic waste strong, lightweight, and fireproof, allows for a fast, safe, cost-effective, and simple building process.

Circulr (Canada) collects packaging materials, cleans them, and returns them for refilling by the manufacturers.

Plastic recycling is often difficult or even impossible to be done efficiently. The customers receive reward points and their deposit back for returning the packaging.

Climate Chain (Netherlands, UK, USA, India) is a platform for companies that want to enable price advantages for their employees at sustainable companies and promote them through their employees via cashback.

It is often hard to recognize which brand is truly sustainable and sustainable brands are often more expensive than business competitors. The companies are audited by third parties in terms of sustainability and made transparent via the platform.

eco-softfibre (Germany) produces a biodegradable, bio-based flexible foam for upholstery and hall absorption that is made from leather shavings – residues from tanneries – which is nowadays considered to be waste.

eco-softfibre bio-based flexible foam

Conventional polyurethane soft foam materials are made petrochemically from mineral oil and cannot be recycled to date. eco-softfibre can be used as a substitute for polyurethane and can be manufactured in a customized way.

Ecosilico (United Kingdom, Russia) is set to counteract the landfills of solar panels and microelectronics waste in order to reduce the negative impact on the environment and make the recycling process economically viable.

Ecosilico have developed a cost-effective and carbon-neutral silicon waste recycling technology. With Ecosilico’s technology, it is possible to replace industrial nanosilica powder with recycled silica from silicon-based waste.

EcoWorth (Singapore) produces the Carbon Fiber Aerogel (‘CFA’), an environmentally friendly super-absorbent material made from cellulosic waste biomass.

EcoWorth is addressing the global issue of poor waste recycling and carbon emissions as well
as inefficient treatment of contaminated and oily wastewater. EcoWorth Tech’s solutions reduce biomass waste (carbon sequestration vs. emission) and provide efficient removal of organics from water (cleaning oily water). CFA has advanced material properties versus existing materials and can be used in wastewater treatment, oil spills, construction, and soil amendment

Endeema (Germany) provides a web platform and prediction tools to realize energy supply and price forecasts that match the energy consumption of industrial producers with the intermittent supply of renewable energy in Europe’s electricity grids.

German manufacturing companies face among the highest wholesale electricity costs in the world, which are expected to increase due to ambitious and accelerated decarbonization timelines. The tool can be applied to SMEs that lack internal energy expertise as well as corporates seeking to capitalize on the availability of high-frequency energy data.

Enzymity (Latvia) focuses on the enzymatic recycling of PET.

Enzymity aims to counteract the largely linear value chain of the plastics industry. Enzymity has developed an infinitely repeatable process operating at low temperatures, with different material streams and minimal emissions.

Gescol (Colombia) produces panels and blocks from post-industrial polymers through mechanical and chemical recycling of residual materials from the clothing industry.

The production of building materials is often energy and resource-intensive. This allows the material properties to be maintained or adapted.

Hya Bioplastics (Uganda) circumvents the use of plastic by making compostable plastic substitutes for food packaging from cassava starch and banana fibre.

Production of plastic products can cause widespread environmental issues if they are not returned to the recycling process. Therefore, 100% bio-based materials are used in their production process.

The lack of recycling possibilities for products made of composite materials, for example from the wind industry, creates large amounts of waste. From fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) products, Jeosal recovers glass and resin. Jeosal (Canada) offers a chemical-free and low-energy process that promises 100% reuse of end-of-life products.

Kagzi Bottles (India) produces a bottle made out of recycled waste paper which is 100% compostable.

Single-use plastic bottles contribute negatively to the world’s plastic problem.

Lwanda Biotech (Kenya) is an environmental remediation social enterprise startup tackling the pollution problem by creating new plastic substitute materials and plastic recycling through the application of extrusion and 3D printing technology.

Pollution from the production, discarding, and burning of plastic contribute to the global climate crisis.

LOVR (Germany) produces a durable, oil-free, vegan leather substitute made from agricultural residues. Compared to other vegan leather alternatives, it achieves its durability without the use of plastic. It is therefore 100% biodegradable and climate-neutral.

Leather production is associated with a high demand for water and chemical substances for further processing.

nornnorn (Thailand) provides subscription programs for such products, starting from mattresses, to ensure that they are retrieved and their components recovered for recycling or upcycling.

Most high-value, long-life products end up in landfills or getting incinerated since their end-of-life recycling is not financially viable. With mattresses, 90% of all the reclaimed components can be given a second life.

Millions of women and girls cannot afford or get access to quality sanitary pads.

Nyungu Afrika makes safe, accessible, and affordable pads for women and girls by transforming underutilized agro-waste of pineapple leaves and corn husk fibers using a circular design.

The biodegradable pads made from natural fibers are creating a solution that is kind to women and the environment while tackling issues of period poverty and waste.

Ponera (Switzerland) produces patented plastic modules of different sizes that can be assembled to easily create any required surface.

Germination, hygienic deficiencies, and strict quality standards of wooden pallets complicate logistics processes. The product provides modules with high load capacities, handling convenience, durability, and cost-efficiency.

REMRETEch (Switzerland) recycles e-waste (EoL Lamps and magnets) to recover REEs and reuse them.

Rare earth elements (REEs) are considered “critical raw materials” (EU 2011). REMRETEch uses a patent-pending, cost-efficient hydrometallurgical process with a circular economy and urban mining approach.

SL-Batteries (Germany) classifies, tests, and dismantles traction batteries at the end of their first life cycle in order to recover valuable material for new battery cells or other (industrial) applications.

The demand for batteries in the mobility sector is increasing but the recycling standard so far realized by cost-intensive incineration of the cell. Thereby, SL-Batteries provides the basis for warranty services at different price levels and to build a trading platform for 2nd life cycle battery modules.

In India, 40% of all straw (about 500 million tons) is burned annually.

Strawcture ECO (India) uses this straw and processes it into fire-resistant, thermally & acoustically insulating engineered panels.

It’s made of 96% straw and 4% resin and can store 30 kg CO2/m2. Strawcture ECO is building Waste to Value business models using alternate fibers in the building materials sector.

The raw material wood is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.

Here Triqbriq (Germany) offers an alternative by producing massive wood building blocks from weak and damaged wood for construction.

The building blocks do not require artificial fasteners.

Only 40-50% of waste generated in Kampala is collected and the recycling rate of solid municipal waste lies at 4% in Uganda.

Yo-Waste (Uganda) offers a mobile application in which households and businesses can demand garbage collection and recycling services.

Yo-Waste allows cashless paying, is more affordable and reliable than traditional waste collectors and uses waste data to optimize collection for customers.