MicroGreen Polymers Grabs $1.6M to Put Green Plastics Into Your Morning Coffee Cup

7/9/09Follow @xconomy

Xconomy has learned that MicroGreen Polymers, an Arlington, WA-based developer of technology to recycle plastics into cheaper, environmentally friendly coffee cups among other things, has raised $1.6 million for expansion from WRF Capital and local angel investors (Northwest Energy Angels, Alliance of Angels, and Atlas Accelerator), out of an ongoing round the company expects will net $3 to $4 million later this month.

The money will be used to build up MicroGreen’s commercial manufacturing capacity, and boost its payroll from 9 people to as many as 30 over the next year, says CEO Tom Malone. The company is also scouting new locations, likely to be in Everett, WA, he says.

MicroGreen got started in 2002, when it spun out of the University of Washington. The basic idea from founders Greg Branch and Krishna Nadella, a pair of graduate students, was to see if they could develop a technique to squeeze high-pressure liquid carbon dioxide into plastics, to heat them up and expand them while in a solid state. This process creates billions of tiny microbubbles that allow manufacturers to maintain most of the properties of regular plastic, while using a lot less of the regular plastic that is made from oil. The MicroGreen technique also creates a handy insulating layer of air inside the plastic, which can protect your hand from getting burned while holding that hot morning coffee. But plastics are everywhere in the modern world, and MicroGreen Polymers sees plenty of opportunities to stick its recycled product into markets that are worth billions.

“We can use less plastic to do the same work,” Malone says. “It’s a less-is-more story.”

The technology, which MicroGreen calls “Ad-air” does just that—it adds air bubbles into recycled PET plastics (like the stuff from water and soda bottles), which makes the subsequent product lighter, uses less material, and makes it cheaper, Malone says. It retains many, but not all of the same properties as the original plastic, so it can’t be used for everything, he says.

The initial applications of the MicroGreen technology have been for a reflector plate that a Japanese manufacturer used to make liquid crystal display TVs appear brighter, and for a contract with Northrup Grumman to help make some electronics equipment lighter, Malone says. These aren’t huge clients, generating revenue of about $1 million last year, and almost $2 million this year, Malone says.

Bigger opportunities lie ahead in disposable coffee cups, food packaging such as … Next Page »

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