There are important moments in the growth of any company in the bioeconomy. For some, it’s that magic moment of discovery at university when study suddenly becomes a potential business. For others, it is the moment they first hold their product in their hands, or when they sell their first product. It’s always a privilege to speak to companies when these big moments are happening, which is the case right now for Futurity, a bio-venture breaking new ground in more ways than one. We recently caught up with two of Futurity’s founders, CEO Jacob Kohn and CTO Dr. Gaetano Dedual who are on the cusp of some major breakthroughs in their goal to establish a first-of-its-kind commercial biorefinery in Tairāwhiti Gisborne, on the northeastern tip of New Zealand.
Jacob, Gaetano and the team are currently commercialising their new technique to break down pine trees into ‘building block’ components, which are turned into platform chemicals for a host of applications in key markets, including packaging, concrete, foams, coatings and paints. Futurity’s focus markets have been chosen because the bio-materials it will create are promising to outperform the materials used in everyday products that currently come from fossil fuels. Futurity has conducted and validated large pilot-scale trials alongside partners Sweetwater Energy (USA) and MetGen Oy (Finland) and is targeting significantly larger-scale trials in September this year with a focus on generating materials for co-development with industry to prove the market. Futurity’s passionate Kiwi founders have adopted a collaborative model, where they are engaging in a number of conversations with key players who can assist them in achieving their goal — to have the commercial biorefinery up and running by 2023/4.
Gaetano Dedual begins with “People don’t realise the number of everyday products that are made with oil-derivatives, the system is so reliant on oil. That coupled with New Zealand’s abundant, managed, exotic pine forests – harvested at approximately 33 Million Tonnes/year – makes using waste wood and low grade logs from Pinus Radiata a huge opportunity”.
Jacob Kohn tells us more about where the company is right now; “We are really excited to be entering a new stage, now that we have the feedstock available and have brought the technology to a point where we can move up a level. Our approach from the start has always been to form strong partnerships, this is why we opted for a tech licensing model and the use of pilot plant facilities.” Jacob explains how early adoption of this model allowed them to fast-track and develop their own proprietary pretreatment technology to leverage and protect the unique advantages of New Zealand pine wood.
“From our initial trials we have proven that the technology works with Pinus Radiata [pine trees],” Jacob says, “and we have confirmed a viable location and long-term availability of wood supply as well as having identified our key markets and established some highly-competitive pricing for profitable operation.” Next steps, he says, will be around validating demand at scale with key market players. Larger scale trials begin in September, in partnership with Sweetwater Energy and MetGen, where Futurity will gain the samples needed to validate its products and pricing and confirm demand. Really, what they’re aiming to do is build a cost-value story. By creating enough daylight on price, and underlining positive performance and environmental benefits of the venture, the buyer can look at what Futurity is offering and will likely find it hard to say no.
Futurity’s process takes carefully-selected low grade and waste wood, removes the bark and then turns the remaining timber into a fine chip. Next, assisted by heat, steam, and pressure, the self-developed ‘Futuration’ process prepares New Zealand’s unique Pinus Radiata wood to be digested by Sweetwater Energy’s SunburstTM system into its primary building blocks: lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. From there, the MetGen METNINTM process turns lignin into specialty grades of useful materials, while a micro and nano cellulose product is derived from the cellulose fraction. Futurity is now working closely on the ‘Valority’ process, optimising and leveraging the unique advantages of its pine-derived products, lignin, micro and nano cellulose materials for the promising applications in key industries and everyday products.
Futurity and Bio Market Insights have teamed up to broadcast an exclusive webinar on 23rd September – From New Zealand to the World – the bio-logical (International) approach to making wood based chemicals a market reality – register here now.
The company has had a commercial focus from the start, as Gaetano outlines; “From the very beginning, we were fortunate to have support from an investment advisory firm, Temple Investment, who are experts in due diligence for complex capital investment decision making. Temple Investment undertook a critical analysis of markets on behalf of Trust Tairāwhiti, the community trust whose mandate is to fast track community well-being and economic development in the Tairāwhiti region. Together, we looked at a number of factors to refine all possibilities down to five key markets — polyurethane foams, rheology modifiers, functional barrier coatings, cement and paper and paperboard additives.”
The measured and focused way that Futurityapproaches the bioeconomy has been further underlined by the assembling of an impressive advisory board, with Sean Simpson of industry heavyweight LanzaTech, joining Matanuku Mahuika of Ngati Porou, who represents Ngati Porou holdings (a large iwi group on the northeastern tip of New Zealand) and Eastland Group which are owners and operators of large infrastructure in the region. The two newly-announced board members join long-time supporter and commercial advisor Richard Mehrtens, Chair of AJ Hackett Bungy and Managing Director of private wealth and advisory firm GLOBALEAGLE to expertly guide their next steps.
As the commercial foundations are laid for Futurity’s future growth, the company is ensuring to keep one eye on innovation. “Running alongside everything is ongoing R&D work, continuing to validate what we are doing,” says Jacob. “One of our strategies from the outset was pursuit of forefront R&D and investment, so we can always keep ahead.”
Gaetano adds, “in such a fast-moving industry, we think it’s key to maintain our R&D activities and to continue to collaborate with other forward-thinking companies. And whilst we have our target of five key markets to focus on for now, we will keep monitoring future opportunities as there are some very disruptive and future-proofed applications in the pipeline. We are very open to conversations with anyone involved in the bioeconomy who wants to connect with us. From now until when the biorefinery will be complete is a great opportunity to get involved!”
We’ve been covering Futurity’s work since the team’s early days, largely because even then, their attention to innovation was matched only by their strategic commercial and market focus, which makes them an undeniably promising prospect for the bioeconomy.
Want more about Futurity and their work in New Zealand?
If you would like to get in contact with the team at Futurity – firstname.lastname@example.org
Alongside some of their partners, Futurity will be hosting a webinar on From New Zealand to the World – the bio-logical (International) approach to making wood based chemicals a market reality on September 23rd 2020 register here now.
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