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IS ALGAE THE ANSWER?

As we look towards the future, algae could provide solutions to some of the beauty sector's biggest issues | Nov 16 2021

Algae is emerging as a potential game-changer in the beauty industry with exciting use cases being made for algae-derived skincare and compostable packaging. Here we talk to Sofie Allert of the Swedish Algae Factory and Tristan Kaye at packaging start-up Notpla.

Just like plants, algae are essential to our survival on earth. They provide at least half the world’s oxygen supply and sequester carbon from their environment. But, unlike their terrestrial counterparts, algae can grow extremely quickly, without fresh water and on non-productive land meaning they don’t compete with food crops. For these reasons and others, a number of industries are exploring potential use cases – there’s even talk of an algae-powered sustainable biofuel.

SWEDISH ALGAE FACTORY

Swedish Algae Factory CEO Sofie Allert has been growing algae for research and development since 2016. Sofie and her team were investigating commercial applications of their algae-derived silica product, named Algica, to increase the efficiency of solar panels when they were approached by a beauty brand.

“We were contacted by someone looking for an organic and sustainable silica alternative to use in a cleanser and we found out that our material actually worked better than all other cleansers on the market. Then we were able to see that it could also work as a moisturiser, that it could stop pollution from entering the skin and block UV light.

We became very passionate about the impact we could make in the beauty industry because unfortunately a lot of the ingredients used for personal care products are not that healthy, for the environment or for us.”

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Sofie Allert, CEO of Swedish Algae Factory

Sofie and her team have received so much interest in their product they are in the process of building a larger facility to scale the production of Algica in 2022.

“Many people we’ve spoken to love the story around what we are doing. Our mission in the company is not to produce something that is just less bad, we want to create something that is positive for the environment. We really try to be as environmentally friendly as we can in all aspects of the business.

For example, we use wastewater to grow the algae for harvest. And we try to be as transparent as we can be so that people can see how passionate we are about what we’re doing and the unique properties our product has.”

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A NEW SWEDISH ALGAE FACTORY
In early 2022 a larger factory will be in operation, capable of producing up to 25 times more Algica to meet demand from all over the world.


NOTPLA

There are exciting developments happening in the packaging space too, where algae is proving to be useful as a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics. UK-based Notpla first developed their product Ooho, a compostable and flexible packaging made from seaweed, in 2013.

“Our co-founders Rodrigo and Pierre started with the idea of fruit being a form of packaging that occurs in nature, like an orange peel — the perfect natural container,” says Notpla commercial director Tristan Kaye.

“Nature encapsulates liquids using membranes, made of natural materials, and can enclose, limit or give a shape, while keeping the balance between the external and internal environment.

This led to many food experiments, and they ended up looking at the potential of seaweed in creating artificial fruit. In 2013, the first Ooho prototypes were made in their kitchen. It was a flexible packaging for a wide range of liquids, 100% biodegradable and home compostable.”

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Notpla is currently working with partners in the beauty industry to explore the possibility of using Ooho to replace traditional plastic sample packaging, which is notoriously difficult to recycle.

“The cosmetics industry faces a plastic problem on a global scale. Our materials lend themselves well to cosmetics applications, so we’re working with several of the world’s leading brands on developing solutions.

Our longer-term aspirations are to develop our materials to a point where industries can take them and integrate into their existing supply chains. Our hope though is that we continue to be a catalyst for plastics-replacement solutions, and a vanguard for the growth of seaweed as an alternative packaging solution.”

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Ooho is a flexible packaging made from Notpla, a material combining seaweed and plants.

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Ooho biodegrades in 4-6 weeks. Photos: David Lineton