Building an eco-friendly and cheaper plastic coffee cup is just one way that new company Microgreen Polymers Inc. wants to use its patented thermoforming process.
The company announced Feb. 22 that it has received $2.4 million in funding to lease and equip a test facility in Arlington, Wash., and produce food-packaging products for test marketing.
The money comes from two private investment groups and the Washington Research Foundation and is for commercializing ideas developed at the University of Washington.
The investment money is being used to lease 10,000 square feet of space in Arlington for a flexible production test line. The company has seven employees and is hiring four more people.
The test line is expected to be ready by June.
``We're building on a technique developed at the University of Washington. We have exclusive rights to three patents developed by Dr. Vipin Kumar,'' said Jim Sutton, Microgreen vice president of sales and marketing.
The company has applied for three other patents while working on the process that will be developed further through research and commercialization.
Founded in 2002 by Greg Branch and Krishna Nadella, Microgreen is using a thermoforming technique in which benign gases are used to create bubbles within the thermoplastic polymer to form a honeycomb-type structure.
The resulting product is lighter but maintains the same strength and is cost-effective, according to Sutton. The process uses 100 percent recycled materials, can resist heat up to 400° F and has a smooth surface.
The process has been tried with many thermoplastics, including polylactide. It has been used to recycle PET into a hot beverage cup that insulates and can be microwaved. Sutton said the process also has been used with polystryrene, ABS and polycarbonate.
Microgreen is planning its own line of microwavable dishes, and has signed a joint venture agreement with Alcoa to develop its food packaging further. The firm also is looking for other licensing agreements.
The thermoforming process can be used in other industries such as retail packaging, automotive parts, building materials, electronic equipment and lighting products, according to Microgreen.