In 1919, an entrepreneur named Nils Halvorsen Norheim arrange an automatic manufacturing facility for making flatbreads close to Barkåker in Norway, the primary of its sort within the nation. A century on, his great-great-granddaughter discovered herself peering into an oven in a tiny kitchen in Trondheim, doing a little baking of her personal—however as an alternative of creating meals, Celine Sandberg is manufacturing foam.
Sandberg is the founder and CEO of Agoprene, a Scandinavian startup creating sustainable furnishings foam. In accordance with the corporate, polyurethane foam rubber, which is derived from petrochemicals and extensively utilized in sofas, chairs, and different tender furnishings, accounts for a whopping 105 million metric tons of CO2 emissions yearly. “Within the furnishings trade, everybody is aware of that foam is dangerous for the surroundings and nobody desires to make use of it, however there aren’t any different options,” Sandberg says. “I need to provide [a more sustainable] different to what we now have immediately, with no petrochemicals.”
With a background in enterprise growth and finance, and with none engineering know-how, Sandberg by no means thought she would enter the advanced discipline of fabric expertise. However her grasp’s research on the Norwegian College of Science and Know-how’s College of Entrepreneurship opened doorways for her, fairly actually. “I needed to arrange my very own firm as a part of my diploma and I wanted some enter, so I began knocking on professors’ doorways and asking them what they had been engaged on,” she remembers. “I discovered that petroleum is a product of degraded biomass over time, so you may, in idea, use biomass to interchange petroleum.”
Impressed, she spent the following few months researching the potential of biomass and the broader world of biotechnology. “Then the Covid-19 lockdown occurred, and I used to be pressured to supply biomass from Norway as I couldn’t attain suppliers elsewhere in Europe,” she says. Within the nation with the second longest shoreline on the planet, she discovered an considerable supply to use: seaweed.
Alongside Agoprene’s analysis chemist, Asanga De Alwis, Sandberg started operating experiments in a tiny kitchen in Trondheim, combining several types of seaweed-based supplies in a selected order, pouring the following combination into molds, after which heating it to 50 levels Celcius—a course of she likens to baking a cake. In contrast to standard baking, nonetheless, the froth spends round 10 hours within the oven, relying on the thickness of the fabric. “Numerous our concepts failed. We should have made round 800 foam samples,” she says.
There was additionally loads extra bootstrapping concerned. Armed with a reasonably modest funds of 1 million Norwegian kroner (round £73,000, or $90,000) from the Analysis Council of Norway, Sandberg began sourcing second-hand gear and ringing up suppliers to ask without cost biomass samples. “I needed to go with out a wage for eight months, transfer again into my dad and mom’ home, and even ask them to pay my cellphone invoice each month as I didn’t have any cash,” she says. “Nevertheless, I used to be so sure that sooner or later, the ship would flip and every thing would work out.”