by Martin Thim·
In this story you will meet Thomas Brorsen of POND Global, creators of one of The World’s Most Advanced Bioplastic which is made in Aarhus, Denmark. POND enable companies to replace planet-toxic materials with 100% plant-based materials that are 100% biodegradable.
Thomas worked as an engineer for Siemens Gamesa (Wind Energy), specializing in developing the blades. At some point, he got frustrated with the slow development of recyclable blades and wanted to focus on creating a new material. At the same time, he was building surf boards and was working with Martin Jensen on creating a material to bond bio-fibers. The development of the POND material was the outcome of that period. But let’s dig into the interview.
Q: Are you a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to the future of humanity and the Earth?
Sometimes I say to people that we are on the road to a world with grey oceans full of algae and extreme weather with crazy winds and fires all the time. A grey planet with genetically modified animals running around. People often reply with “Thomas, don’t make those scary scenarios, people will just back off.” But honestly, how much scarier can it be, than where we already are? 96% of all living creatures on this planet today are humans and our livestock. There are only 4% wild animals left and every year we already have new heat records and so forth. Maybe we are already fucked. But I will say it like this: I’m doing my part and I will continue doing that. Whether we succeed or not is another story.
Q: In order to get everyone up to speed, let’s talk about the benefits of BIOSOLUTIONS
Okay, so 8% of all raw oil is used to make plastic and it is important to understand that the plastic industry and the oil industry is the same. That 8% equals 400 million tons of plastic which produces 4 billion tons of CO 2 per year (!), as 1 kg of fossil plastic in the big picture creates 10 kg of CO 2 . So, plastic is a major polluter.
Source: Copenhagen Economics
Now, this is where the biomaterials come into the picture and it gets very interesting, because if you took away all that plastic and exchanged it with biomaterials you would not only save the 4 billion tons of CO 2 – but also store an additional 800 million tons of CO 2 as plant-based materials from nature store 2 kg of CO 2 . You could basically turn a part of the problem into a part of the solution. In other words, we don’t need to invent CO 2 sucking machines, nature made them for us millions of years ago.
On top of that bioplastic is easy to reuse and can be recycled forever. This way, all our consumer goods would suddenly be depositing CO 2 for us. As a matter of fact, you can already run around in a pair of Adidas shoes created with our material. The technology is here, and the first products are on the market, it is only the upscaling that is moving way too slowly.
Q: So why is the transformation going slowly? POND should be expanding everywhere right now?
The problem right now is the same as we see in other businesses like energy, agriculture and so on. Big oil is busy and very successful in telling politicians, companies and even NGOs that recycling oil-based plastic is the future. The problem is that they cannot recycle it properly – only around 5% is recycled and even of those 5% it is NEVER a 100% recycled as they always add new oil-based plastic. Decision makers end up with the idea that we don’t need biosolutions and it is a big problem.
I would like to stress this point actually: It is extremely dangerous if we facilitate the wrong development even if it is done with good intentions. Let me give you an example. A guy calls me and is very uplifted. He explains that he has made a surfboard out of used polystyrene boxes (an oil-based product) - the idea and intention sound good, right? But the problem is that even though he might be able to reuse some polystyrene boxes he is really giving the industry that makes those boxes an excuse to continue doing so and that is the wrong development – we need to find ways to stop using flamingo plastic in the first place. Leave the oil in the ground, it is killing us.
Q: So, trying to be the devil’s advocate here, what about those who say that it would take up too much farmland to make biomaterials in the amounts needed?
First of all, side streams from food production can be used for bioplastics instead of burning it as we do today. But there are so many solutions to this.
We will make vertical farms that produce duck weed because duck weed have some amazing features. It grows really quickly – only four days from zero to full size. We could even make a vertical farm connected to a factory like Aalborg Portland (cement factory and one of the biggest polluters in Denmark, red.) and collect all their CO 2 this way.
We can also use grass that we could grow on the farmlands we need to take out of agriculture production. Here, it would literally work as CO 2 vacuum cleaners. We can harvest this up to seven times a year and make it into bioplastics.
Seaweed is another example of a component that has great potential and some amazing side effects for our struggling oceans. Seaweed is a great source for the sugar needed to make bioplastic and the seaweed farms are good for biodiversity in the oceans. It means more animals and around 30% of the seaweed will fall to the bottom of the ocean where it is sedimented and stores CO 2 .
Q: I could add that we could also stop using 60-70% of all farmlands to make feed for animals. So, the bottom line is we have plenty of space and solutions and once again this is a myth created by agriculture and big oil?
YES, and if we stop smoking cigarettes the land area used for growing tobacco would be sufficient to cover our need for plastic.
Q: So how would things look in the future if companies like POND and others in the biosolutions business succeed?
Our material has a higher performance than the competing oil-based materials so we can swap out basically everything made in plastic. We could build a car of biomaterials or an airplane for that matter. We don’t need the oil – it needs to stay in the ground!
Q: Where do you see the best opportunities right now; is it here in Denmark, in Europe or elsewhere?
I must admit that from time to time I think about moving the company to another country where the chances of succeeding would be better. We don’t get a lot of support here, unfortunately.
The funny thing is that we just came back from a tour in South America and they seem a lot more serious about this than what we experience here.
Colombia wants to create the world’s first bio plastic cluster. Right now, they are looking at public procurement, something that we are not very good at here in Denmark. They are looking at school uniforms, hospital uniforms, police, military and so on. And they are talking about a timeframe of twelve months! That’s how you create demand and opportunity, so now we have started mapping out all the fantastic natural resources they have that can be used for bioplastics. It’s regenerative all the way. In Europe, we are busier talking about so-called circular solutions for fossil plastic and the like, but it’s a dead end if you ask me.
While we were in Colombia, we were joking about which money to want. The dirty Norwegian oil-money or the plant-based drug money from Colombia. It is controversial, of course, but oil is literally destroying the planet.
Q: And on that note. Thank you very much for this interview. Is there anything we need to add?
Yes, we need a high CO 2 tax, and we need it very soon. New technologies will never take over if those polluting are not being charged for it.