02 Apr Closing The Loop On Fabric Production
In Spring 2018, SEAL Awards connected with Anne Schauer-Gimenez, VP at Mango Materials, to talk about their innovative closed-loop production concept for manufacturing bio-polymer threads and fabrics.
Mango Materials transforms methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into eco-friendly, biodegradable materials – and they do so at costs which are competitive with traditional manufacturing.
WHAT IS MANGO MATERIALS, AND WHAT IS YOUR BIG PICTURE DREAM?
Mango Materials has a closed-loop cradle-to-cradle vision where polymers can be part of the natural carbon cycle, instead of persisting in the environment indefinitely. Using methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as the feedstock, we generate a polymer (PHA) using natural bacteria. PHA is also fully biodegradable in many different environments and in degraded in an anaerobic environment; methane is produced and can ultimately be used to make more polymer.
WHY ARE YOU NAMED MANGO MATERIALS?
Even though our process has nothing to do with mangoes, we wanted a natural sounding name to reflect our natural production process. Also, mangoes are delicious!
HOW DID YOU COME TO LEARN ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF METHANE-EATING MICROBES, AND DISCOVER THAT THESE MICROBES ALSO PRODUCE A WASTE PRODUCT THAT CAN BE TRANSFORMED INTO BIO-PLASTICS?
Mango Materials was founded off of the PhD research of our CEO, Molly Morse, and CTO, Allison Pieja.
During their time at Stanford, they investigated the use of methane to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) as a plastic substitute. They focused on understanding the production process in the lab and once they graduated, they took this technology into the field and focused on commercialization. Since then, Mango Materials has been scaling our technology in order to increase volumes of PHA from methane.
HOW ARE YOU SOURCING THE METHANE YOU ARE USING? ARE YOU CAPTURING AMBIENT METHANE AND REMOVING IT FROM THE ATMOSPHERE?
We are currently located at a wastewater treatment plant in the San Francisco Bay Area. The wastewater process produces methane that is traditionally captured and flared. We take the methane they already capture and feed it to our bacteria which use it to produce the PHA. While we are located at a wastewater treatment plant currently, we have used other sources of methane (landfill gas, agricultural methane, etc.) to produce PHA. The methane needs to be captured and we co-locate at the methane production site.
WHAT INDUSTRIES ARE CURRENTLY USING YOUR BIO-PLASTICS? WHAT ADDITIONAL INDUSTRIES DO YOU HOPE TO FURTHER EXPAND INTO?
We are currently working in the beauty and textile space. Our material is amazing as rigid packaging for cosmetics, which are typically difficult to recycle. Recently, we developed a polyester replacement using our PHA and we are working with various fashion brands to make prototypes and ultimately provide the clothing of the future!
PHA is a very versatile polymer and can be converted to many different products. As we scale out technology, we will explore other market segments where a biodegradable polymer is needed.
HOW LONG DO YOUR BIO-PLASTICS REMAIN DURABLE BEFORE THEY BEGIN TO BIODEGRADE?
PHA is a very stable polymer and will only degrade in microbial rich environments. Therefore, the longevity of the products made from PHA is quite long, but when they are disposed of, the biodegradation occurs quite quickly.
WHAT SYSTEMS / PARTNERSHIPS DO YOU HAVE IN PLACE TO RECAPTURE METHANE FROM YOUR BIO-PLASTICS ONCE THEY BEGIN TO DEGRADE?
We love the idea of take back programs in order to ensure the products can ultimately end up as methane that will be used to produce more polymer. Both beauty and fashion brands have these programs in place so as we expand our production volume, we will work within this framework to make sure the products have many lives.
ABOUT MANGO MATERIALS
Most synthetic fabrics have a negative impact on the environment, but Mango Materials reduced their footprint at several points in their fabric’s life cycle:
- By cultivating microbes which feed on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, they are helping to reduce atmospheric carbon
- A byproduct of their microbial feast is a biopolymer that serves as an alternative to petroleum-based synthetic fabrics, further reducing the carbon footprint of their product
- Finally, Mango Materials’ polymer fabrics safely biodegrade at the end of their lifetime – unlike synthetic fabrics which only break down into highly polluting micro-plastics
ABOUT SEAL AWARDS
The SEAL (Sustainability, Environmental Achievement & Leadership) Awards launched in 2017 and is an awards-driven environmental advocacy organization.
Our core beliefs maintain that environmental progress requires leadership, leadership deserves recognition, and recognition is a form of accountability.
The SEAL Awards organizational pillars are our:
- Business Sustainability Awards
- Environmental Journalism Awards
- Lifetime Achievement Awards
- Environmental Research Grants