Startup Bywyd pushing for climate neutral material transition
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Startup Bywyd pushing for climate neutral material transition

Jun 09, 2024

Blue Finn chair

A young Dutch start-up called Bywyd BV launched in 2022 with a vision. Bywyd, the Welsh word for ‘live’ strives to develop climate neutral polymers, to help customers to cut their carbon footprint in an affordable manner. Sustainable Plastics spoke with Jan Willem Slijkoord and Robert de Bruijn, the two cofounders of the young company.

As the material transition continues to gain ground, the availability, quality and use of sustainable materials has become a key theme within the industry, with any number of companies working on solutions. The major manufacturers of fossil-fuel based raw materials have entered the field, introducing a host of alternative polymers, both recycled and bio-based, or both. However, a huge drawback, in a great many cases, is price.

“We founded Bywyd with the ambition to create climate neutral polymers, that will enable customers to become more sustainable and help customers reduce their carbon footprint in an affordable way. The issue is that companies can become much more sustainable and even climate negative, but the costs are significant. Companies are very interested in sustainability - but frequently, they can’t afford to pay what often amounts to double the price for biobased sustainable material,” explained Robert de Bruijn, Bywyd co-founder responsible for the strategic management and business side of the company. Formerly of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, he previously also spent five years working with companies and foundations, large and small, on the development of a sustainable strategy, helping them to translate this to their internal processes and organisation. With Bywyd, he is now applying that expertise to managing the transition towards more sustainable plastic materials. “Basically, our aim is to decrease the price gap, the green premium that currently applies to carbon-neutral materials.

Robert de Bruijn

Bywyd takes waste – for example hospital waste- and upcycles this into a carbon-neutral compound. The company says it can reduce the carbon footprint of the material, compared to virgin and to recycled material – in the latter case, by respectively 60-70%. The cost, said de Bruijn, is less than what would be paid for a biobased version of the material. “So, we have material intellectual property to meet the gap between recycled and biobased materials in such a way that climate neutral products are achieved. And we deliver that material. In this way, we are supporting the industry’s material transition to climate neutral solutions,” he said.

Re-creating the value chainBywyd is active on behalf of its customers in various ways; as one of its founders has a background in law and economics and the other in materials sciences, sustainability, recycling and process engineering, the start-up can offer consultancy services; it can supply granulate and develop customised compounds made to customer specification.

What the two partners have especially found is that to create sustainable materials, a different ‘sequence of value chain partners is needed’. Obviously, working with residual waste streams as feedstock source requires a multidisciplinary approach that is different to using virgin oil to produce virgin polymer material.

“What we learned is that if you want to supply a new type of compound, there is a lot that needs to be organised,” said Bywyd co-founder and technology partner Jan Willem Slijkoord, “That is our role. We coordinate and manage the process throughout the value chain,” he explained.

“We have no assets, we buy in any machinery needed via partners,” added De Bruijn. “But a new supply chain needs to be developed, new agreements need to be made between the partners involved. And that's our role. Jan Willem is the in-depth material expert – as partners, we are very complementary - and he has the knowledge to take an as-is product to an upcycled compound that meets the requirements of the end user.”

Bywyd has developed a methodology to guide and manage the process. The company not only contacts the suppliers, it also ensures the supply chain is functioning correctly, applies strict quality control per step in the value chain to maintain the requisite level of quality and communicates in a transparent fashion about invoicing,prices and on an operational level. “And marketing communication,” said de Bruijn. “These are the four pillars of our value chain approach. And for each new business case, with a new value chain, this is the standard procedure we always follow. We stick to our methodology to guide the partners in that specific value chain - to guarantee the right quality to the end customer consistently.”

Jan Willem Slijkoord

Minimising the environmental impactA key point in that respect is Bywyd’s continual striving in each case to create the best compound with the least environmental impact for the application in question.

According to Slijkoord, this is achieved by finding the right mix: by making use of both biobased materials and recycled materials, ‘in such a way that we optimize the return on the recycled and biobased materials to minimize the environmental impact’.

Moreover, Bywyd’s approach goes beyond just assessing the impact the material selected. The company also looks at energy use and water use, tailoring the material treatment processes to the application – ‘as long as the end properties fit the requirements of the application’.

“So, for example, if hot washing is not needed, we don’t do it,” said Slijkoord.

“It is not only the material, but also the combination of processing and material selection which offers us the best opportunity to create a climate neutral material against the lowest costs.”

By avoiding additional unnecessary energy use, the environmental footprint of the resin is reduced. The company owns no machinery or other assets but selects partners to work with depending on the application, who can provide the expertise and equipment to offer the lowest impact per material part.

“What I would like to add is that our business starts with the end product in mind,” said De Bruijn. “Our customers come to us with a sustainability goal for the coming years and need help with becoming more carbon neutral. We work with them to show how to fulfil that goal.”

Part of that is also ensuring the safety of the products and that they are REACH, RoHS or EFSA compliant. “Based on our analytical knowledge and network, we make sure that we control every step in such a way that that no hazardous substances are present in our materials. We help with arguments to avoid greenwashing, and, next to a smaller carbon footprint, product safety is an important one,” Slijkoord added.

Is cooperating with partners and toll compounding a viable route for the future? Bywyd’s founders are convinced that it is the right way forward. As they pointed out, each project is different – and requires a different process. “There is enough machinery capacity in the market already, and this way we do not have to make the investment,” De Bruijn pointed out.

Hence Bywyd has developed material intellectual property to produce climate neutral products, but the actual production is done by third parties according to Bywyd’s specifications.

“We try to make use of partners who are as integrated as much as possible. Also, we have a close relationship with more and more pre stock suppliers. Because compounding is basically the last step. Of course, it starts with raw material. So, the better the quality of a raw material for specific ends application, the fewer process steps you need. The selection of the right material is important. But it also depends on what the customer wants.There is a huge variety in feedstocks and it’s an interesting and dynamic world in which to operate.Our advantage is, however, that we are independent – not tied to a single supplier or restricted to a certain kind of equipment. We can quickly assess the potential of a specific material for an application – from a technical point of view as well as in terms of the desired carbon footprint; plus, we have access to various test labs and can test our materials quickly. Thus, we can offer all kinds of solutions.”

Ensuring supply continuity, quality consistencyOne of the issues that always comes up in relation to alternative materials, whether recycled, biobased, or both is that of the continuity of supply. So how does Bywyd ensure this?

“That’s very true, and it is an extremely important question,” said Slijkoord. “Before we start the development of a compound, we are always careful to check the sources needed for a specific compound, but we also check that a sufficient amount is available. Say, we need 100 tonnes – we make sure at least 500 tonnes are available and that the suppliers can guarantee the supply in the future. And we don’t rely on just one supplier.”

Regarding the consistency of the quality, Bywyd sets up the quality control specifications for every step in the value chain, from the incoming feedstock to the final product, and checks that these are complied with at each step. The result is a technical data sheet and a material safety data sheet.

“What we think is also important -and surprisingly it is not yet common practice – is to detect a scatter in the material’s properties as well. For example, if referring to the strength of a material, we show the minimum strength and the maximum strength, which tells designers using our material that they can rely on the minimum strength and design the product accordingly. They can be sure that, in any case, the material will not break in the application. So, the scatter in the material properties is very important – and the better we control the quality in the value chain, the less scatter occurs in the final product, the better the product’s consistency becomes.”

This applies to the right raw material selection and purification step at the very beginning - any impurities in the input material influences the property scatter in the final product, as well, he added.

Hospital waste – a business caseThe first actual project demonstrating Bywyd’s approach involved the creation of a chair based on polypropylene derived from nonwoven blue wrap hospital waste. The chair, called the Blue Finn, is manufactured by Vepa, one of the leading furniture manufacturers in the Netherlands, and also active in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany.

The blue wrap is supplied by PreZero, with whom Bywyd has partnered. PreZero collects the blue wrap from a number of hospitals. Blue wrap is a nonwoven material used for wrapping surgical instruments for sterilization. It is generated and used in only a few areas, such as surgical rooms. It is a clean, uncontaminated waste stream that can be collected for recycling.

“Per year, each hospital in the Netherlands generates about 20 tonnes of blue wrap - a huge amount,” said Jan Willem Slijkoord. “So, we thought of a way to reuse it.”

The first step, he said, is to sort the waste, to ensure no paper, clothing, towels or gloves have accidentally found their way into the waste. The company works with a sorter for this step.

“After sorting, the blue wrap is baled into large bales, and then shredded into smaller foil pieces. These pieces are then melted and regranulated. In the next step, a compounder adds a number of additives to transform the very brittle bluewrap polypropylene into an impact modified PP which can be processed on an injection moulding machine,” explained Slijkoord. “The original blue wrap material is an extremely high flow material, suitable for producing the fibre used to make the nonwoven polypropylene and, as I said, is a very brittle material. However, to produce a chair, the flow needed to be decreased by over 70% and the impact resistance improved by a factor of 2.5, which is quite significant.”The resin demonstrated the required properties and successfully withstood Vepa’s vibration test, which meant it could be used for the application. It was delivered to the injection moulder, who moulded the parts, after which these were delivered to the end customer – Vepa – who assembled the parts on the frame. The chair is available as a bar stool, a semi-high bar stool and a regular chair. The components are designed for disassembly and for reuse them after use.This first project has been successfully completed and Bywyd is now testing a product for another customer active in the global flooring industry.“This customer produces cast resin floors. They are currently testing whether it is possible to use waste - not from hospitals, but from another source – to produce their floors. And we are also in contact with several global producers of, amongst others, household products. We are seeing quite a lot of interest in our vision,” said De Bruijn.A vision, added Slijkoord, that strives to give value to waste by creating a valuable material that is sustainable – ‘no greenwashing, but a fair material that is backed up by a solid story and solid arguments, that resonate in the market’.

Value chain of the Blue Finn chair.

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Re-creating the value chainMinimising the environmental impactEnsuring supply continuity, quality consistencyHospital waste – a business case