The University of Cambridge found a way to potentially solve the microplastic problem using Beyond Meat’s hero ingredient: plant-based pea protein.
California-based vegan meat brand Beyond Meat uses pea protein in its meat-like plant-based burgers and sausages. Unlike soy protein, pea protein is hypoallergenic—making it a more favorable source of protein. It’s also available in high quantities.
However, UK firm Xampla, a spin-out from the university, has found another way to use the ingredient. The firm has developed the “world’s first” plant-based protein to replace the microplastics in everyday items.
Inspired by the process spiders use to turn protein into silk, the start-up re-assembles plant proteins, such as pea proteins, into new structures to create films and microcapsules.
Xampla’s plant protein-based material is able to decompose “naturally and fully” in a matter of weeks. This makes it a better packaging alternative to traditional plastics. These can take hundreds to thousands of years to fully decompose.
The new prototype has received £2 million in seed funding. This will be used to get the product to the market.
The start-up hopes to transform the $12 billion microencapsulation market—a sector that currently relies on synthetic polymer capsules.
‘Tremendous Beneficial Impact’
Cambridge Enterprise Fund VI participated in the funding round. Dr. Elaine Loukes, the fund’s Investment Director, believes Xampla’s new alternative to plastic is “remarkable.”
“The fabrication process mimics those used by nature and the product is entirely made from natural materials,” she said in a statement. She added that the company has the potential for “tremendous beneficial impact.”
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) notes that each year, microplastics equivalent to roughly 10 billion plastic bottles are released into the environment in Europe.
They are virtually impossible to remove, and they pose a significant problem to marine life. They’re even in the deep-sea. According to one study by the National University of Ireland, 73 percent of deep-sea fish have ingested microplastics.
“Our mission is to reduce the impact of single-use plastic, and our initial focus is on intentionally-added microplastics,” Xampla’s CEO, Simon Hombersley, said in a statement. “We are committed to helping manufacturers make the transition from traditional plastics to high-performance alternatives that protect the planet.“