Interview with Florent Héroguel, Co-Founder and COO of Bloom Biorenewables #31
Making biomass an alternative to petroleum
The events of last week have been impossible to comprehend. The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is completely unacceptable and atrocious. I’ve been anxious, terrified, and sad. Even tackling climate change has felt somewhat meaningless in the face of this war. Having my family roots in the Finnish Karelia, which was invaded by and lost to Russia in 1940, hasn’t made the situation any easier to cope with.
The world’s focus is right now on Ukraine and it must be. That’s why I feel uncomfortable even mentioning the other crisis that we face, the climate crisis. However, it is important to notice how these two crises are linked together by the Russian oil and gas industry. Russia’s oil and gas imports in Europe account for 25% and 40%, respectively, which helps explain why the heavy sanctions on Russia haven’t touched its oil and gas sector yet…
Investing in renewable energy production and alternative feedstocks for fossil fuels is not only an act of tackling the climate crisis but also an act of decreasing the Kremlin’s power.
The following three interviews at Survivaltech.club in this and upcoming weeks present novel technologies that provide alternatives for oil and gas.
Survivaltech.club will publish biweekly from today onwards.
Pauliina in SF (March-May)!
In the midst of all this turmoil, I have some exciting news to share:
I am moving to San Francisco for three months (March-May) this Sunday! I participate in the amazing SILTA program that takes entrepreneurs from Finland to SF.
During my time in SF, I am looking forward to:
meeting as many climate tech folks as possible,
learning the best practices of a hardtech company building, and
validating a startup idea to decarbonize aviation.
If you live in the Bay Area or know someone that I should definitely meet while there, I would highly appreciate contacting me! You can reach me best via my email :)
P.S. I am a huge fan of all kinds of outdoor sports, so more than happy to meet on a hike, or go 🧗🏼♀️🎿🏄🏼♀️!
Today, I have the honor to introduce you to Florent Héroguel, the Co-Founder and COO of Bloom Biorenewables. Bloom is making biomass a true alternative to petroleum and aims to make all carbon-containing products like fragrances and plastics from biomass.
🌳Introducing Bloom Biorenewables
The problem that Bloom is tacking - petroleum
Our humankind uses almost 100 million barrels of oil per day. The petroleum industry is tightly intertwined with our everyday lives, even more than what we imagine.
It’s easy to see how our current means of transportation are dependent on oil. Most cars, trucks, planes, and ships still run on some petroleum-derived fuel (gasoline, diesel, or kerosene) despite the increasing electrification rate.
What’s less obvious is that most of our everyday products, such as plastics, textiles, fertilizer, and even cosmetics, are made from petroleum. This is the petrochemical sector. In 2017, the petrochemical sector accounted for 14% of the oil demand and represented the second largest sector for oil demand, right after transportation.
While the demand for petroleum dropped in 2020, it is expected to surpass the pre-pandemic demand levels during 2022.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that petrochemicals will be the driving force for oil demand in the upcoming decades. Thus, finding alternative feedstock for petrochemical products is crucial.
Bloom is a Swiss startup making biomass an alternative for petroleum. They aim to make petroleum-based products, like fragrances and bioplastics, from waste biomass.
Bloom has developed a patented aldehyde-assisted fractionation technology to utilize biomass more efficiently.
Woody, lignocellulosic biomass has three main components: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Today, we only use cellulose (40% of the biomass!) properly. With Bloom’s technology, the rest of the biomass, hemicellulose and lignin, can be utilized and turned into products!
If you want to hear more about Bloom’s solution and technology, check out the video below:
🧠Wisdom from Florent
What led you to found Bloom Biorenewables?
I have a background in science and hold a Master’s and Ph.D. in chemistry. At the same time, sustainability has always been important in my life. I started to develop a strong feeling that I wanted to use the wide range of my chemistry skills to make the planet better.
After my Ph.D., I decided to join a new lab at EPFL in Lausanne as a post-doc researcher. Together with the professor, we built the lab from scratch. The lab had the mission to valorize biomass residues from forestry (e.g., sawmill) and agriculture (e.g., straws, nutshells).
We were successful in the research, got excellent outcomes, and patented the technology. We also got encouraging feedback from the industry, and there seemed to be market potential for this technology. Together with Prof. Jeremy S. Luterbacher and Remy Buser, we incorporated Bloom in 2019.
How does your technology work?
We aim to replace the feedstock of all carbon-containing products with a sustainable one. These carbon-containing products are essential in our modern society and include, for example, paintings, textiles, plastics, packaging, and fragrances.
Today, these carbon-containing products are made from petroleum. In fact, 14% of one oil barrel is used to make petrochemical products.
We at Bloom want to replace petroleum with biomass. Like petroleum, biomass is made from carbon, but it is renewable since biomass captures atmospheric CO2 during its lifetime.
To use biomass as an alternative, we need first to understand the structure of biomass.
There are three main polymers in biomass:
Cellulose is the most widely used biomass part. It's primarily used to make paper. However, using hemicellulose and lignin has been challenging so far. Hemicellulose and lignin are tightly linked, so separating them without degradation is very complex.
I like to make an analogy to the structure of an egg. An egg is also composed of three elements: shell, yolk, and white.
There are two ways of how to separate these parts:
Your first method is just to crush the egg in your hand and filter the shell parts. You can still make scrambled eggs, but your options for products to make are limited.
The second method is to crack the egg and separate the yolk and white carefully. Now, you can make chocolate mousse from the white, cream from the yolk, and many other delicacies.
Today, most of the biomass industry is still using the first option for treating biomass. They are crushing it and can, thus make only a few products out of it.
At Bloom, our process carefully separates the different parts of biomass. Our job then is to create different kinds of recipes (=processes) and make products from these biomass fractions.
What kind of products do you develop?
We can make lots of different products from biomass fractions. For example, we can make textiles and packaging from cellulose, fragrances, cosmetics, and surfactants from lignin, and bioplastics from hemicellulose.
We make products for both existing and emerging markets.
An example of the existing market is vanillin. Most of the vanillin that we eat is currently derived from petroleum. Instead of oil, we can produce the same vanillin compound from biomass.
We are also developing new products for emerging markets. For example, we are developing cost-competitive, biodegradable materials which are circular by design.
How do you decide in which order you will pursue which product?
Being able to produce many different products is a double-edged sword for a startup. When you have a small team, it is crucial to hold the focus and have a clear expansion strategy.
Our product strategy is as follows. We have decided to start from niche markets, such as fragrances and cosmetics. These are high-margin and low-volume markets, which also our current production capabilities can support. Over time, we aim to scale our production and move to bulk markets to make a gigaton impact.
How sustainable is your production process?
We are currently developing a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for our approach and have got initial results.
Our LCA guides us for ecodesign with 4 areas of focus:
We use biomass, which is a renewable carbon source. Furthermore, we aim to use biomass residues, which would otherwise be wasted with no competition with the food supply.
2. Manufacturing process
Our process is a closed-loop system and generates very little waste. Also, our process takes place at 80℃ and hence, doesn’t require lots of energy.
3. Product performance
We aim to produce only quality products, with performances and lifetime at least matching current standards. This means, for example, that our food packaging is efficient and does not require additional layers to preserve its content.
4. End of life
We consider the end of life of every product. We are, for example, developing biodegradable and recyclable materials.
So far, we have modeled the CO2 emissions for a range of applications with CO2 emissions reduction up to 90% according to the model.
You have raised funding from some amazing investors, such as Breakthrough Energy Ventures. What has been your fundraising strategy?
We wanted to find investors who were aligned with our mission. Scaling our technology takes time - it is hardware. We had to find investors who were comfortable with a longer investment time. We also wanted to find investors to whom impact meant a lot.
We were lucky to find investors like Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Yokogawa that are aligned with our mission and provide us with lots of support.
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In two weeks, we will continue with the theme of decarbonizing fuels and chemicals!