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Newlight Technologies Expands­ Plastic Substitute Aircarbon

Makes Ohio Plant, CNX Methane Captures Deals

Newlight Technologies Inc. in Huntington Beach has reached two key agreements to expand the production of its Aircarbon material, an environmentally friendly material that looks and feels like traditional plastics and is used to make cutlery, straws, bowls, plates and potentially plenty of other items.

“We’re delivering tens of millions of products into the market today,” says Chief Executive Mark Herrema. “The field of opportunity for Aircarbon is pretty immense.”

Aircarbon competes with traditional polypropylene plastics, which are oil-based and generally harmful to the environment.

Newlight Technologies and Long Ridge Energy Terminal of Hannibal, Ohio, said last month that they had agreed on the construction and operation of a new facility in Ohio to produce Aircarbon.

Herrema says the plant, whose cost is estimated around $300 million, will significantly expand output.

In addition, one of the companies involved in the transaction has agreed to invest 25% of the project costs, or up to $75 million, subject to certain conditions, to participate in the economic returns associated with the project.

CNX Pact

In a separate agreement, Newlight Technologies and natural gas company CNX Resources Corp. (NYSE: CNX) of Canonsburg, Pa., last month said that they have entered into a 15-year agreement to capture and utilize methane emissions for the production of Aircarbon. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

The Surf City’s investors include the TPG Rise Fund of San Francisco and Valedor Partners of Houston.

Newlight’s last reported funding round was a $45 million Series F deal, struck about two years ago.

Herrema and Kenton Kimmel, who both grew up together in Orange County, founded the company in 2003. Kimmel is chief technology officer of the company, located at 14382 Astronautics Lane.

The company counts about 200 employees, with more hires scheduled for this year.

The Process

Newlight started developing the process in 2003.

The process starts with “capturing” carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfills, farms, coal mines, water treatment plans and energy production facilities.

The methane and carbon dioxide are then mixed with salt water, air and a naturally-occurring microorganism culture, to build up the “biomaterial” called Aircarbon.

The captured carbon would otherwise become part of the air, and the products would otherwise probably be made from plastic, which would have caused environmental damage.

Herrema told the Business Journal earlier this month that Aircarbon molecule, also known as PHB, is as strong as many oil-based plastics but is a naturally occurring material.

“We extract it and it becomes meltable,” Herrema said. “Because it’s meltable, you can use it to make different shapes and parts and pieces.”

Displacing Plastic

With a variety of potential industries to serve, Newlight’s primary focus is on addressing ocean plastic pollution by displacing plastic in the foodware market, starting with straws, cutlery, and coated paper products.

“You can use it as a replacement for plastic,” he says. “It’s a home-compostable material.” In fact, Newlight Technologies views greenhouse gas emissions “as a resource.”

It is made in a “carbon-negative way,” according to him. “It’s basically just harnessing a process found in nature, including in the ocean, that uses greenhouse gas as a carbon resource.”

Herrema says that while cutlery and foodware are the main focus now, “we’re also making sunglasses, bags, purses and wallets.”

Customers and partners include Shake Shack, Nike, U.S. Foods, Disney, H&M, Sumitomo, Hyatt and Ben & Jerry’s, according to Herrema.

For instance, that means home-compostable carbon-negative straws for Shake Shack and Disney.

“For Sony we’re delivering our cutlery. It’s dishwasher safe and reusable,” he says.
Aircarbon is working with Nike to help reduce the carbon footprint of their products, including the fashion and apparel segment.

Aircarbon is being developed automotive applications with Sumitomo, according to Herrema.

Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal
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