Komaplastics is a project dedicated to reducing the agricultural plastic waste generated each year and supplying farmers worldwide with a quality bed mulch that both optimizes their crop yields, fertilizes the soil and reduces labor costs.
Project to Product
The Komaplastics project has researched a novel method of making a thermoplastic out of one of the most abundant materials on Earth, cellulose. Komaplastics’ goal has always been to manufacture and distribute our end product around the world. With this vision in mind, the project was taken on not only with an engineering and environmental perspective but an entrepreneurial one as well. To ensure long-term success for Komaplastics, understanding our potential market was crucial. This meant continually evaluating our project framework for a successful future transition into the market. Although our product is still in development, this future planning is an essential part of the long-term future of Komaplastics. This led to an initial analysis of the market for potential consumer interests, cost and strategy analysis, and strategic design choices for flexibility in a dynamic global market.
Niche Market Research
The global plastic industry is enormous. Reaching gains of almost $600 billion per year , there are many choices for the ideal consumer base within the global market for Komaplastics to target. Because we wanted to make a local impact, we focused on Santa Cruz and the central coast of California. The California strawberry industry produces 88% of strawberries grown in the United States , and a significant portion of that is grown within 50 miles of Santa Cruz. Most growers invest in covering their fields with plastic bed mulch films; these coverings increase production by between 50% to 100% when compared to uncovered crops . Worldwide, the plastic bed mulch industry is estimated to be worth $4.07 billion in 2020 and expected to reach $5.10 billion by 2027 .
In recent years, there has been a growing market for organic and sustainable agricultural goods. Consumers are willing to pay an average of 47% more for a product labeled organic . Several companies have recognized this, and created new biodegradable plastic bed mulch products. However, they all have several drawbacks: where Komaplastics is 100% bio-based, every other competitor incorporates dyes, heavy metals and/or petroleum-based products . Komaplastics also decomposes in the field by the end of the growing season, eliminating the need for unsustainable landfill dumping, or energy intensive recycling. For these reasons, strawberries and other crops grown with Komaplastics are a favorable choice for consumers.
Our product is an easy choice for farmers who’d like to increase the marketability of their product without dramatically increasing costs of growing. Strawberry farmers have a typical budget of $365 per acre for plastic bed mulch, with an estimated additional $40 in labor and $18 in disposal fees for cleaning up the polyethylene mulch at the end of the growing season . Although Komaplastics may be more expensive for farmers than a traditional polyethylene bed mulch, the savings from the elimination of clean-up and labor costs would help to counterbalance the cost. Beyond purely fiscal concerns, farmers would also accrue the benefit of extra marketing and labeling potential by gaining access to the growing market for sustainably grown goods.
Cellulose as a Base
Our team chose to work with bacterial cellulose as a base for our plastic for a variety of reasons: cellulose is immensely abundant, completely biodegradable, and easily functionalized in a simple way such that it has the potential to replace plastic. Bacterial cellulose was used due to its low cost of production with a very high purity compared to other cellulose sources, resulting in no need for purification before modification and production.
Agriculture is a massive producer of global plastic pollution with the US alone, estimated at generating 816 million tons of agricultural plastic waste per year . Agriculture is one of California’s major industries, and it is vital to the Santa Cruz area and central coast; strawberries are a major crop along the California coast line.
Interview with Pavle Jeremic
The 2020 UCSC iGEM team was fortunate enough to speak with Pavle Jeremic, a past iGEMer from the 2016 UCSC Team! Pavle is also the CEO and founder of Aether Biomachines, a biotech company that stemmed from his iGEM team. We had multiple Zoom calls with Pavle where we spoke about his iGEM experience and tips, entrepreneurship advice, company growth, and patenting our research.
Talking with Pavle provided us with insight into the world of biotechnology for a new startup. He told us that it is important that, when we talk with the customers, not to talk about the product- rather, talk to them about their problems to hear their concerns because if their problems don't match your product, they won't buy. He also gave us advice on adapting to research and said that the product we are making now will probably drastically change for the better as time goes on.
Pavle also gave us advice on how to write out cost projections for our product and do a
techno-economic analysis of where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. This helped
us draft our own business plan and potential budget for what we believe our product is worth.
He explained to us that projection of the cost of our film once it’s on the market needs to
include: The conversations we had with Pavle gave us a lot to think about long term and what where we
expect this project to go. He gave us a lot of good advice and tips using his own experiences
with consumers and law firms. With the help of Pavle Jeremic and the Cost and Return studies from UC Davis, our team was able
to build a simple budget and business plan for the end Komoplastics product to calculate the
viability of industrial culturing of K. rhaeticus as a cellulose source.
Business Plan and Potential Budget
The conversations we had with Pavle gave us a lot to think about long term and what where we expect this project to go. He gave us a lot of good advice and tips using his own experiences with consumers and law firms.
With the help of Pavle Jeremic and the Cost and Return studies from UC Davis, our team was able to build a simple budget and business plan for the end Komoplastics product to calculate the viability of industrial culturing of K. rhaeticus as a cellulose source.