image of two men in a laboratory

Background

Algae Limited is a company born out of the passion of the founder, David Rodríguez De La Cruz, to create sustainable plant-based alternatives to conventional plastics. This idea was developed when David was still a student in Business Studies from Edinburgh Napier Business School.  Algae Limited aim to contribute to the protection of the environment by developing biodegradable alternatives made from naturally renewable resources. They are a new market entrant seeking to pioneer the creation of new products made from these materials.

 

Challenge

The company identified the potential to develop an organic conjugate made from seaweed and Gum Arabic as a novel bioplastic material. Seaweed is a cheap natural product, easy to harvest and extract. It is available on almost every coastline and it has significant capacity to regenerate.

It was the intention of Algae Limited to develop a viable compostable bioplastic from seaweed which could be used as an alternative to traditional plastics. The development and improvement of the new product required input from an expert in materials science; skills which the company did not possess. Specifically, this expertise was required to develop a prototype which could then be taken to market.

 

Solution

David received help and advice on the development of his business from Dr Wendy Wu of Bright Red Triangle (BRT), Edinburgh Napier’s Innovation and Enterprise Hub. This included business advice and coaching. Through this, David was introduced to Dr Mark Dorris of the Edinburgh Napier School of Engineering and the Built Environment. Dr Dorris is an expert and lecturer in materials and had the necessary expertise to help David develop his product.

A series of coffee sessions were set up through BRT to understand expectations and ensure that Dr Dorris and Algae Limited were a good match.

David was then put in touch with Dr Sharon McGettrick, Edinburgh Napier University Research and Innovation Manager, who gave him guidance on the Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher Scheme, administered by Interface.

With further assistance from BRT, a successful application for an Innovation Voucher was made to Interface. This provided £5000 worth of funding from the Scottish Funding Council to allow Dr Mark Dorris and his team to test, develop, improve and validate the bioplastic. This essentially confirmed the potential of the material as a viable, more environmentally friendly alternative to certain traditional plastics.

The project outcome also helped the company to explore IP registration, which was critical to the viability of concept and future commercial success.

 

Benefits

Company:

The result provided the company with a viable prototype and proof of concept, including the scientific data to verify the product. This was a substantial step towards entering the marketplace and would not have been readily achievable without the assistance of the funding provided by an Innovation Voucher.

 

University

This project provided an opportunity for Edinburgh Napier Business School and BRT to assist an enthusiastic young entrepreneur to develop his idea by harnessing expertise from a different school within the University (the School of Engineering and the Built Environment).

For Mark Dorris and his team, it provided £5k of funding and the opportunity to work on a real-life project to assist in the development of an environmentally friendly product. The insights gained from the work also have the potential to form the basis of future research and academic output.

Gail Boag, the Dean of Edinburgh Napier Business School, is focussed on building strong links between the Business School and the business community. Edinburgh Napier aspires to be a conduit for new knowledge creation and a channel for open innovation. Projects like this are an important part of this development.

Co-operating with Interface was crucial in providing this opportunity for a truly win/win situation and providing the ability for companies to benefit from academic expertise in the development of innovative ideas.

David Rodríguez De La Cruz

"Regarding the Innovation Voucher, my experience was excellent. We managed to do the most with the idea, obtaining results which indicate that we are on the right path to develop a sustainable material with short life utility. More work requires to be done to develop the product, but we have made substantial progress.

I am grateful to Edinburgh Napier Business School, BRT, Dr Dorris and his team, and The Scottish Funding Council and Interface for helping me to make such progress. Without the specialist expertise of Dr Dorris, I would not have been able to pursue my business idea."

David Rodríguez De La Cruz, Founder, Algae Limited
Dr Mark Dorris

"A major issue with bioplastics is in manufacturing processes like extrusion and injection moulding which typically rely on the material characteristics of plastics. Natural fibres tend to burn rather than melt and evidence from this work suggests the addition of Arabic Gum to seaweed nanocellulose alters the thermodynamic qualities of the composite to closer approximate that of plastics and thus may be more suited to plastics manufacturing processes.

Work is ongoing in the Nanomaterial labs at Napier on a range of natural products and composites and Arabic gum is being tested as a plasticiser in various applications. The results, while still at an early stage, show a lot of promise and this Interface project has allowed us to incorporate an additional useful biomaterial into our green chemistry and sustainable materials repertoire."

Mark Dorris, Senior Research Fellow, Lecturer in materials, Edinburgh Napier University School of Engineering and Built Environment

"I want to say a big thank you to the Scottish Funding Council and Interface for supporting our graduate to explore his passion and further test his innovative concept in the lab. Edinburgh Napier Business School is proud to have David as a graduate. I would encourage more students to follow in his footsteps in pursuit of societal and environmental impacts.

Collaboration between entrepreneurs and academics is an ever more important part of developing promising business ideas into successful companies. Edinburgh Napier University is committed to building links between our academics and the wider community including business.

We value the Innovation Voucher scheme and look forward to supporting it further as part of our focus on empowerment, employment, and enterprise."

Gail Boag, Dean, Edinburgh Napier Business School