Will we have a very different outlook on cities in 2022?
Bags made from mushrooms. Moss-lined concrete walls. An alternative to the fat of milk which gives a creamy taste to vegetable proteins. We may start to learn more about these innovations in 2022, says Maurits Burgering, program director at the Thematic Technology Transfer Program – Circular Technology (TTT-CT). One of the TTT programs was launched by the Dutch Enterprise Agency.
The Netherlands wants a waste-free economy by 2050, as stipulated by the Dutch government’s circular economy program. By 2030, the use of primary raw materials such as minerals, metals and fossils is already expected to be halved. “At the rate we’re going now, that’s not going to happen,” says Burgering.
The difficulty with circularity, according to Burgering, is that it’s more complicated to quantify. “With CO2, emissions are still measurable. With an innovative pharmaceutical concept, you can calculate how many patients you want to reach and what it should cost. You can almost predict what it will be worth. But with circularity, you are dependent on suppliers and buyers. At each switching point there must be something in it for the next switching point. It’s almost like a perpetual motion device that you try to keep moving.
Subscribe to our newsletter!
Burgering wants to help researchers – potential entrepreneurs – within the TTT-CT program to take their research ideas to the next level. “I have always had the impression that there is a lot of knowledge and expertise in universities which is not always integrated into society. It takes a few more steps to get there. Especially at this very early stage. A small financial injection can then act as a catalyst.
The TTT-CT program is a partnership between the four technical universities of the Netherlands (4TU), the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the Dutch venture capital fund SHIFT Invest. The program supports researchers with a ‘ticket’, a small budget to work on proof of concept or business development, and then a convertible loan from the fund. This allows them to take their research ideas to the next stage, to validate them and, for example, to set up a spin-off. In addition to Circular Technology, the consortium focuses on smart industry and medical technology with Innovation Industries as a venture capital fund.
“What strikes me every time is that there is such a motivation among these young researchers to really want to make a difference in the world. They don’t just have a great career and end up somewhere in management. They choose this road full of energy and passion. When they get a ticket from me, they will spend that money very carefully. They make the most of it to advance their ideas.
For the coming year, Burgering sees potential in all of the innovations – around 40 spotted cases, including 20 in preparation – that the program is actively supporting. He has selected a few that he hopes will hit the market in 2022.
City that breathes
Like Respyre. In a previous interview that IO had with this spin-off, founder and CEO Mark de Kruijff mentioned that the company “wants cities to breathe again”. The start-up is developing a bioreceptor concrete product that stimulates the growth of foams. In doing so, she wants to make cities into urban landscapes. “Aside from the many advantages, it is just beautiful. This technology really stole my heart. I sincerely hope they will be successful, ”says Burgering.
Whether greenery, as opposed to concrete, helps cities breathe in 2022 depends on a multitude of factors. “In the construction world, this involves significant investments. In this case, you are not just introducing something new. There is a risk that things will go wrong. The start-up has a pilot running at Marine Terrain in Amsterdam. For this, the team works with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).
Burgering: “I hope that by 2022 they will have mastered the technology. May the pilots be successful and may people become as enthusiastic as I am. If that works, then we’ll look at our cities in a whole different way.
Burgering also cites the Time Traveling Milkman as an innovation to watch out for, and not just because of its “fantastic name”. “You really saw this team pick up the pace after receiving an investment. Everything is in the right timing, you have to know how to listen to the team. These young entrepreneurs can choose from many options to further their careers. Waiting a long time for funding is usually not one of them.
The founders of Time Traveling Milkman, Dimitris Karefyllakis and Costas Nikiforidish, have developed a fatty plant-based product that tastes as creamy as, for example, dairy products. For example, they extract fatty globules from sunflower seed cells.
Learn more about the origins of the WUR spin-off here.
Burgering: “The protein transition is a very important element in terms of sustainability. Everyone is working on new proteins. But it is precisely this fatty part, this creamy taste, that makes dairy products so appetizing. This start-up has found a great place in this protein transition that no one else has thought of yet. “
The start-up also received co-funding from the regional development agency OOST NL in 2021. “They are developing at a breakneck pace. Faster than they expected, they are now in the next phase. It’s great to see. By 2022, they aim to show that they can produce a thousand liters and that they can scale up.
“A case of the ‘fun factor’ is what Burgering calls Mylium molded leather. “Bags made from this material are now on display in the Bijenkorf department store. The start-up received a ticket in 2021. The team is using it to work on the proof of concept. “If you see where they were and are now, their progress has been tremendous. “
There are, according to Burgering, several parties that make faux leather from mushrooms. These parts work with what is called solid state fermentation. “It’s less scalable. Mylium works with liquid fermentation. You can then pump this into a larger fermenters (devices in which microorganisms are grown under controlled conditions, such as temperature and oxygen, ed.). Big brands, like Hermès, have already shown interest. If Mylium goes through this phase, it could get huge.
With enthusiasm, Burgering evokes another innovation that may well become huge: the principles of nature. A spin-off of TU Delft which is working on a biobased plastic substitute based on polylactic acid (PLA) of the building block lactate. “Again, there are more parties doing this. User costs are still high. With the method used by Nature’s Principles, costs can go down.
In addition to the support of TTT-CT, other parties are committed to help the Start-up to progress further. “There is an angel investor on board, but also regional development agencies are starting to step in. They think it might be interesting to host such a company in their area.
Finally, Burgering cites Susphos, which manufactures high-quality bio-based flame retardants and specialty fertilizer products from phosphate-rich wastewater from agriculture, among others. The start-up won the Rabo Innovation Award at the end of 2020. Burgering: “It’s a company that is not linked to any of the four technical universities or to the TNO. Our ambition is for TTT-CT to eventually become a national platform accessible to all. So that we can help bring even more innovations to the market, which is absolutely necessary for the circular economy to really take off.