If these crazy people asking for funding can start a business, so can I

Molly Morse

Bioplastics tailored to the fashion industry

The advent of bioplastics has helped all kinds of industries to reduce their environmental footprint – from cutting emissions to reducing waste through closed-loop manufacturing. Take the fashion industry. Traditionally, some 30 billion pounds of (oil-based) textiles go to landfill every year. But that could all be about to change thanks to the creation of a naturally occurring, recyclable biopolyester that is made by bacteria and (eventually) degrades by bacteria…

Molly Morse

What if we could produce plastic using one of nature’s most potent greenhouse gases (methane)? And what if that plastic wasn’t harmful to the environment but naturally biodegradable? What impact might an innovation like this have on the oceans, global warming, and the seemingly inevitable droughts, floods and human suffering it will cause to future generations?

This is the question that drifted into the mind of Molly Morse one fine day in California while consulting for a venture capital firm and listening to yet another bioscience pitch from people who didn’t really know what they were talking about; and then suddenly realizing that: She did.

Within a few weeks Molly was learning how to create a start-up company from scratch. As a result, Mango Materials’ first field lab was based inside an old shipping container, with just one computer shared between four people, and not enough chairs.

The inspiration? Molly had conducted PhD research at Stanford University involving the production and biodegradation of a naturally occurring biopolymer, polyhydroxyalkanote (PHA). As a result she and her colleagues succeeded in creating a unique way of producing PHA using bacteria fed by methane. So she decided to commercialize it.

Today, Mango Materials can produce methane-based PHA at cost parity to oil-based plastics – and is firmly focused on the textile industry. Its naturally occurring biopolyester can be used with other natural textile materials to produce a truly sustainable product; while Mango Materials’ carbon recycling technology enables regeneration of new-from-old apparel with no reduction in quality. For a world desperate to preserve resources and reduce emissions it sounds like a perfect fit.

Pioneers of science, we salute you

We hear much about the world’s problems, but less about the people who continue to solve them. Here are just some stories about both legendary and unsung scientific heroes that have inspired us.