"The feedback has been great, with their customers keen to show their ‘environmental conscientiousness’ through their buying decisions."
There seems to be something about Sweden when it comes to bio-based developments. From their continent leading uptake in sustainable biofuels, to consumer products from IKEA and H&M through to truly innovative use of the nation’s forests and some exciting digital start-ups in Stockholm, there’s lots happening. Today, we are delighted to bring you an exclusive insight into the latest company making waves in Sweden, Trifilon who develop, produce and sell lightweight biocomposites. Our Editor Luke Upton, speaks to Jeremiah Dutton, Head of Sales at Trifilon whose own journey has taken him from Canada, via a stint working with Siemens on their wind power projects, about how the business has evolved, the ‘Blue Planet effect’, overcoming scale-up challenges, bio-based luggage and much more…
Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today, perhaps we could start by you giving a little introduction to Trifilon?
Jeremiah Dutton (JD): No problem Luke. Well, we are a small company based in Sweden that like so many others in our industry sprung out of a university project. Beginning in 2007, the initial focus was on the mechanics and engineering to develop lightweight hybrid materials using carbon and woven natural fibers. It was only as the research and testing continued that we dropped the carbon fiber and focused just on combining natural fibres, mainly hemp, with plastics to create our biocomposites specifically designed for injection molding. We underwent a long incubation period but by 2015 we were a fully commercial operation. For us the bio-based aspect is important, but it is in the creation of advanced, lightweight materials that both save weight and improve performance that we truly see the creation of environmentally friendly products.
LU: Great, so where is the business at the moment?
JD: It’s going very well as we’ve been growing steadily in recent years. We have three main products: Biolite, a natural fibre (industrial hemp - pictured left) reinforced polypropylene which can be used as an injection molding material; Bioform, a natural fibre reinforced biocomposite that can be easily shaped into any form in conventional compression moulding equipment and Biophon a mix of sustainable hemp fibres and a starch-based binder, delivered in panels for acoustic applications.
But since Christmas and the showing of Blue Planet (the BBC documentary that graphically detailed the plastic crisis in our seas) we’ve had a huge upsurge in interest from consumer facing brands. They are telling us that their customers are now taking a keener interest in plastics and what goes into the products they make. We’ve had interest from all over the world which is fantastic. And just today I found out that our Biolite material was one of 12 cleantech solutions nominated for this year’s WWF Climate Solver awards. We’re super thrilled for this!
LU: It’s something we are hearing a lot from companies in the bio-economy, so great to hear you are also riding this wave. Could you give us an example of a consumer facing product you supply?
JD: Yes, in 2017 after some intensive material engineering, we signed a five year deal with EPIC for their PhantomBIO range of luggage which is made of Biolite. This composite is both lighter and stronger than traditionally reinforced polymers due to the hemp fiber's ability to reduce density while engaging the polymers on a molecular level. The feedback has been great, with their customers keen to show their ‘environmental conscientiousness’ through their buying decisions. Our previous contracts have been on industrial projects but this is our first big commercial one, so a very exciting step for the business.
LU: It’s sounds like a great journey so far. But what’s been the biggest challenge?
JD: For us it was the step up from lab / start-up level to the pilot stage that was the biggest challenge. When we were in the lab we could produce maybe 1-2 kilos of BioLite an hour. At our pilot line in Nyköping, just south of Stockholm, we now produce about 100 kg per hour and this stage has its own new challenges – ISO certification, material traceability, etc. It’s a completely different world! We’re now actually planning on undergoing another big step up this summer to industrial scale, where we will be producing 500 kilos per hour, in our newly expanded facilities. We’ve learnt from the changes last time and so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will be a far smoother process.
LU: Thanks, so for our community members who are reading this and are perhaps just beginning their bio-based journey, what advice would you give?
JD: If you have an idea, or a technology you must test the idea with paying customers. It has to be exposed to reality, even if this sometimes come with disappointing realizations and some truths you may not want to hear. It’s essential to get this done early, at the start of the Valley of Death. It will equip you and the business model far better to succeed and enable you to make changes and ensure a focus from the very start.
LU: And finally as we ask all our Friday interviewees, what is your favourite bio-based or sustainable product and why?
JD: While I’m passionate about sustainable plastics, I really love wind power. I worked with it for a few years and it’s such a great source of clean, sustainable energy that can be rolled out relatively fast. The tech involved is cool and I like seeing them dotted around the countryside. Hopefully one day we could even help make longer, lighter bio-based turbine blades. I’d even offer to host the first test turbine in my backyard!
LU: Many thanks for the time today Jeremiah, and we’ll be sure to keep our readers up to date with your developments.
For more about Trifilon click here.
Read the last 5 minutes with… Marc den Hartog of Corbion.
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