"We have invented a completely novel system which collects the milk, churns it, and then upcycles it. Having a different background makes what we do completely unique - and it is something I'm very proud of."
The German entrepreneur Anke Domaske has found a solution to create sustainable textile fibres from wasted milk. The University of Berlin discovered that Germans throw away around two million tonnes of milk each year. Milk consists of more than 200 vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be processed and turned into resources. Anke was the first to pioneer fibres made from 100% milk casein while using the smallest environmental footprint. Her technology is under a patent making it the most unique of its kind. After busily working throughout the Christmas period to prepare for a large order to the US, Anke found time to talk with Emily O’Dowd about her role as CEO and Founder for QMilch. Since the company began in 2011, they have gradually looked to grow the business from their humble beginnings. QMilch started out in a small kitchen with only $200 of supermarket instruments to make the milk fibre. It takes only two litres of water and a temperature of 80 degrees to make a kilogram of textiles. Everything that Anke and her team of 20 manufacture use 100% natural and renewable resources. In 2014, production was then implemented and since then QMilch have been working with clients across the supply chain to provide non-woven yarns. In this interview, Anke reveals her journey from a microbiologist to making milk fibres and the challenges she has faced along the way.
Emily O’Dowd ( @biobasedEmily ) (EOD): What inspired you to start QMilch?
Anke Domaske (AD): My journey with QMilch began when my step-dad was suffering from cancer and we couldn’t find anything for him to wear. Most clothes in the textile industry are chemically induced so I couldn’t find any non-allergenic fabrics on the market. I quickly discovered that even natural fibres like wool are not made from natural resources anymore – they are also treated with pesticides that you cannot wash away. This is what spurred me to step into the role of fibre production. Then I discovered an old process about milk fibres on YouTube which was used in the 1930s, but the process was still chemically laden turning it into another non-natural process. However, I believed that there had to be a solution where I could create a fibre like this but so natural that it could be eaten. Since then, this has always been our main ethos for QMilch.
I began my career as a microbiologist with a degree in bacteria, but the fibre world has been completely new to me. It actually turned out to be more beneficial to have a a limited understanding of fibres because we had no fear when we came to test it – creating the milk fibre had already been the most complicated process! It is such a fine fibre with very complicated properties. When I talk to experts now, they are surprised that we were able to successfully produce the substance. I think that if we had had a more technical background in these processes then we would have been constricted by the scientific methodology that already exists. As a result, I doubt I would have chosen the process that now works for us. We have invented a completely novel system which collects the milk, churns it, and then upcycles it. Having a different background makes what we do completely unique - and it is something I'm very proud of.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
AD: I feel that I can improve myself from some of the challenges that we are faced with every day. I am part of an environment where I can discover new things everyday which makes it so much fun! By pioneering such a novel process, I am excited by the opportunities which will arise.
EOD: What are some of the challenges that you have faced even though this process is patented?
AD: One of the biggest challenges is that we are working in a complicated system where there is not just one way to do things. But many people that have worked in the plastic industry for a long time have certain ideas about the ways that polymers work. However, QMilch is a new material which does not work within these categories. Therefore, sometimes it is difficult to convince people that what we do is really working because nothing has ever existed like this before. It is important to encourage our customers to break the system and take a risk with something new.
EOD: From your experience at QMilch what advice would you give for someone starting work in the bio-based industry?
AD: The best advice I have is to go with your instinct. Don’t listen to anyone else because they will be quick to tell you if something won’t work. It is important that you keep on going and believe in yourself and the product you have. I’m sure there have been a lot of start-ups in the world that were told that their idea would never work but they have been able to prove everyone wrong.
EOD: What change do you think should be made for the bio-based industry?
AD: I definitely think more needs to be done to encourage greater investment for small start-ups. Of course, the beginning stages for every start-up is the most challenging because many aspects of the business remain uncertain due to the research and production costs. But this should not stop investment firms financing these crucial sustainable developments. Secondly, another hurdle can be accessing the market to begin with. Greater relationships need to be made between businesses and investors to ensure that time and money can help to develop something great.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
AD: At the moment our focus at QMilch is to stabilise everything that we have created in the company so far. I see this venture as a lifetime’s worth of work and I want to make it as successful as possible! Once we feel stabilised, we can then aim to enter a broader market and create a lot more milk fibre products. I would love to make QMilch a huge success and inspire other companies to do something different in a sustainable way.
EOD: My final question is what is your favourite bio-based or sustainable product aside from your own product range?
AD: Of course my main interest is the fibre market and recently I have found banana and orange fibres very interesting. There are lots of new products taking place in the market. Another innovative fibre I discovered are nettle plant-based fibres - hopefully there are a lot more to come!
Bio-Based World News will bring this new 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Next week's 5 minutes will feature... Steve Hurff, Vice President - Marketing & Sales,
DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products.
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