Ten years ago, Mark Herrema had a radical idea: What if plastic could help fight climate change, rather than be part of the problem?
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Today, Herrema’s vision may be turning into a reality. With Newlight Technologies, Herrema is making plastic out of thin air, literally turning the greenhouse gas methane into low-cost plastic. The company has two production facilities running in California and is aiming to produce 50 million pounds of plastic this year out of methane released from a dairy farm.
Newlight recently announced a $9.2 million Series C round, bringing total funding to just under $19 million. The new injection of capital will be used to accelerate growth and accommodate demand.
“We’ve grown significantly in our customer base just in the past six months and we have about 25 customers. And being able to execute on all those accounts is really important,” says Herrema.
How Newlight’s Technology Works
Herrema says the company is focused on making a product that beats traditional alternatives when it comes to cost.
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“[T]his goes back to the founding concept of the company: that the only way climate change is going to be solved is if we find a market-based solution,” says Herrema, “where you don’t even really need to care about climate change – you’re still part of the solution, because you want to outcompete on price.”
He says his belief in this idea kept him and his team afloat – even as they struggled with the technology.
“We’ve got a pretty stubborn team here and we just always believed we could get there. A lot of that was frankly naivety. We always felt we were pretty close to the breakthroughs we needed, and in the early years we weren’t, but we didn’t know it. And we just made a decision that we weren’t going to stop until we got there,” says Herrema.
Today, Herrema says Newlight is able to make methane-based plastic more efficiently than oil-based plastic.
“We actually use greenhouse gas, combine it with air and then use that to synthesize a polymer. And that polymer can replace oil-based plastics,” says Herrema. Then, the company turns the polymer into a pellet of plastic, which can be molded into various shapes. Clients include furniture manufacturer KI and a cell phone case-maker.
“Because our process is so efficient, we’re actually reducing the costs of plastics production,” says Herrema. He doesn’t have a number for exact cost savings, but says the company is outcompeting by a fairly significant margin.
As Newlight scales its business, Herrema says the sky is the limit.
“We’ve got a better way to make materials. Why make something from oil, when you can make the same performance product from something that we would otherwise be breathing right now, that would go into the air, and reduce the cost?” asks Herrema. He says he believes Newlight could have a dramatic impact on the plastics industry.
“So over time, [we’ll be] actually saving the plastic industry billions of dollars … so the impact is pretty significant on the financial side,” says Herrema.
He is also hopeful that Newlight could help rehabilitate plastic’s public image.
“What if plastics were part of the world’s solution to pulling carbon out of the air? Then you have a whole new paradigm for what this industry is,” he says.