A BIOTECH start-up has established itself at an Anglesey science park, working to provide a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics based on seaweed.
Born in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘PlantSea’ will be based at Menai Science Park (M-SParc) in Gaerwen.
PlantSea was founded by three Aberystwyth University PhD students after they won the InvEnterPrize competition organized by the university’s Business School and the Aber Innovation Campus, securing initial start-up funding, and they have big ambitions for the future.
The north-west is one of Wales’ leading hubs for recycling and environmental innovations, so PlantSea will fit right into their new location as they work tirelessly to deliver a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics – derived from seaweed.
Communities in the north-west have had significant success in reducing plastic waste, with Anglesey having led the nation’s recycling rates previously, and communities like Beaumaris establishing plastic-free working groups to help businesses in the area remove single-use plastics from their operations.
Gianmarco Sanfratello, co-founder of PlantSea, said: “Turning the tide on plastic pollution is our vision.
“We want to replace single-use plastics with innovative, sustainable materials derived from seaweed.
“We process seaweed and convert it into a sustainable material which can be suitable for a range of different uses.
“Our journey started during lockdown as three friends living in Aberystwyth and studying for our PhDs at university there, all with a common interest in the environment and its protection and wanting to do something about it – not knowing what that would be at the time.
“We’re converting seaweed into alternative materials, and eventually we will get to the point where we have a material that can replace plastics with a material that is much more sustainable than other common alternatives.”
Alongside his other co-founders, Alex Newnes and Rhiannon Rees, the three were inspired by their surroundings in Aberystwyth where they saw seaweed every day on the glorious beaches, before the environmentally conscious trio got to work on launching their business.
An important collaboration that has developed to help PlantSea move forward has been with Bangor University’s BioComposites Centre.
Dr Viacheslav Tverezovskiy, the centre’s head of chemistry research, said: “Last autumn, when Gianmarco contacted me and described the novel approach employed by PlantSea, I was happy to advise on further steps for the new-born company to achieve its technical goals.
“Working in collaboration with another Welsh SME (small to medium enterprise), Olew Limited, we placed a lot of efforts into writing an Innovate UK proposal, which has been funded, and we are now in the beginning of an 18-month ‘PlantSea-Pack’ feasibility journey.
“Along with a feasibility study, PlantSea is looking for commercialisation of its novel technology for a broad range of possible applications and the BioComposites Centre is applying our experience to help make this happen.”
In the current climate, many more entrepreneurs will surely be looking to establish businesses or develop innovations in the biotech sector, but the newest tenants at M-SParc by Bangor University are not daunted by the competition and instead embrace it as they hope to collectively tackle a major environmental crisis.
Mr Sanfratello added: “It is very timely to be looking at this kind of technology, because the world is waking up to the problem and there is a lot of funding and support for finding alternatives to plastics, so we saw this as a great opportunity to get started.
“It is very important more companies see the opportunity and responsibility here to try and deliver these more sustainable solutions.
“We don’t see it as competition, because there is so much plastic out there to replace and there is an immediate need to find a solution to do it.
“Consumers are starting to be more eco-conscious and want these solutions, so we are one of many working towards that and we’re very excited to be able to deliver our solution in the future.”