Although MicroGreen Polymers Inc. first hoped to gain market footing in thermoformed food packaging, the initial draw for its InCycle recycled PET sheet has come from printed signage.
During a Feb. 4 telephone interview, President and CEO Tom Malone said InCycle is being used in Costco stores to advertise monthly specials to the wholesale warehouse club's members.
The graphic communications industry is a beachhead, Malone said. It's a way of building volume for MicroGreen, getting InCycle out into the market in an application that has some of the same kinds of needs that the packaging industry has for thermoformed package shapes in the sense of needing good decorating.
InCycle sheet is made from material that is expanded using Arlington, Wash.-based MicroGreen's patented Ad-Air technology. Ad-Air, developed at the University of Washington and marketed in 2008, creates gas bubbles within solid-state plastics to expand the materials and improve their functionality by creating an internal microcellular structure that its creators say is lightweight, insulating, strong and highly reflective.
MicroGreen partnered with one of its largest investors, Waste Management Inc., to divert PET from landfills into its InCycle sheet.
Malone compared Houston-based Waste Management's role in MicroGreen's supply chain to that of a fluid catalytic cracker at an oil refinery: Instead of fractioning off hydrocarbons from crude oil to gasoline, olefinic gases and other valuable products, Waste Management extracts discarded PET, which allows MicroGreen to stretch the value of polyester molecules and extend the PET's life cycle, Malone said.
This is what the wave of 'cleantech' is about. What will truly continue to build this wave of momentum is the democratization of waste streams, when the consumer looks for and embraces a product that is made from what once was the waste stream, he said.
MicroGreen was founded in 2002. In 2006, it completed a round of Series A of funding, which netted $2.5 million and in 2010 the firm completed a Series B funding round, which brought in $6.9 million.
An insider extension of the Series B round in the fourth quarter of 2010 pulled in about $3.8 million, Malone said, setting the stage for the 31-person company to shift its focus from building assets to growing its customer base.
In addition to Waste Management, MicroGreen counts among its financial backers Seattle-based private equity firm WRF Capital and Northwest Energy Angels, a Seattle-based group of private investors.
According to MicroGreen, future applications for InCycle sheet are thermoformed trays and cups, convolute cups and overwraps, clamshells and other food-service containers, including those intended for extreme temperature applications such as freezer-to-microwave meals.
In its promotional materials, MicroGreen claims that the amount of source material required to produce one 20-ounce conventional PET bottle can produce seven 12-ounce InCycle cups.