Through Imagine Chemistry, AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals invites startups and researchers to work with us to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the chemicals industry today. During the 2017 edition, we invited 20 teams from over 200 submissions to the finals, ultimately selecting 10 winners to receive additional support from us and our partners to turn their ideas into reality. Here we catch up with Renmatix, one of last year’s winners.

Renmatix is a privately held, US-based company specializing in turning plant materials into building blocks for cost effective and sustainable fuels, chemicals, and materials. Their innovative Plantrose® technology deconstructs lignocellulosic materials into their constituent parts, namely cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, using only hot, pressurized water, and it does so orders of magnitude faster than other processes while using no significant consumables.

Renmatix’s technology results in products which could replace oil-based equivalents and reduce our dependency on fossil feedstocks. Two products in particular have significant commercial potential for AkzoNobel’s businesses: Crysto™, a hydrogel of crystalline cellulose with viscosity-modifying properties, and Soligo™, a water soluble oligomer of cellulose that can be modified to create bio-based additives. These products have broad applications including chemical intermediates and commodity chemicals, and formed the basis for Renmatix’s submission in the challenge area “Cellulose-based alternatives to synthetics.”

During Imagine Chemistry, Renmatix was one of three teams to receive the top prize: a joint development agreement aimed at incorporating their products into AkzoNobel’s products or product portfolio. Work on their agreement with AkzoNobel is already underway, but it’s been a long journey for them to get to this point.

Renmatix’s lab-scale process began in late 2008 and their first pilot-scale plant opened in Georgia a year later. Since then, the technology has been honed in their state-of-the-art demonstration facilities in Georgia and New York, with financial support from pivotal investors such as KPCB, TOTAL, BASF, and Bill Gates. Headquartered in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Renmatix has >40 employees and is uniquely positioned to collaborate with large multinationals. 

“We’re kind of a non-startup-looking startup, in terms of our size and scope,” explains Jeremy Austin, Director of Business Development, “But it’s related to our current positioning. Historically we were preparing to use our technology to play a big role in biofuels, but external conditions have slowed down that development globally. It just so happens that via our process we make these other products that are valuable in other applications, so we have decided to emphasize those for now.”

“It’s pretty exciting because we’re dealing with products that are new. How often do you see that? Even mundane things like understanding regulatory issues are interesting because you’re dealing with something different. We’re pretty confident that we’ve got something cool, based on feedback from companies like AkzoNobel, and that’s got us pretty excited.”

Jeremy got his start in the corporate world, but after 10 years decided it wasn’t for him. “When I joined Renmatix what I wanted was to actually be able to influence the immediate and long term viability of the company. When you’re working in a big company, there’s really no lever you can pull that you’re going to be influential.” In his eyes, companies’ unwillingness to take risks could sometimes be debilitating. “The true entrepreneurial spirit in most big companies seems to be dead, and it has been squashed by shareholders. You can have the most wonderful technology and all the right people to bring it to life but not do it out of fear, and that just seems strange to me.”

In Jeremy’s view, startups could be the breath of fresh air big corporates need. “Historically there’s been no link between startups and big companies, so what you guys have done with Imagine Chemistry is fascinating,” Jeremy says. “By opening the doors to outside technology, you’re taking a little bit of the guesswork out and a little bit of the burden of proof off of your internal community while using your expertise and resources to take new ideas to market.”

As to working with AkzoNobel, Jeremy is satisfied with the progress so far. “When it comes to startups, it’d be great if everything was done yesterday,” he quips, adding, “That said, things have progressed well in that all the right things are happening. I like what AkzoNobel has to offer and I would advocate others to participate.”

Imagine Chemistry 2018 is open for submissions from January 10th to March 10th, with the finals event taking place from May 29th to June 1st in Gothenburg, Sweden. If you think you have a solution that can help us make the chemicals industry more sustainable, we invite you to join our Challenge at 

www.imaginechemistry.com.

For more information about Renmatix, visit www.renmatix.com