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Turning paper trash into paint-worthy treasure

Our collaboration with Alucha uses paper sludge to make paint.

Alucha and AkzoNobel are collaborating on technology that turns paper sludge into resources for making paint. Alucha won the partnership in the 2019 Paint the Future global startup challenge. Now, we reveal how it’s unfolding.

A lot has happened since Alucha became one of five winners of the 2019 Paint the Future startup challenge. Gijs Jansen, Alucha CEO, and Rinske van Heiningen, AkzoNobel’s Director of Sustainability, share what’s next in this exciting partnership to turn paper sludge into useable resources that can be used to make paint.

Waste not, want not

Alucha has developed a technology that recovers calcium carbonate – a mineral that goes into things like plastics, paper, and paints – from paper waste. Paper sludge, which is what’s left of paper once the fibers have broken down so much that it cannot be recycled anymore, is the paper industry’s biggest waste stream. But together, we can help make something useable out of it.

“Today, calcium carbonate comes out of mines and quarries in great quantities. It goes into plastics, paper, paints, pharmaceuticals and all sorts of everyday life products which will be thrown away and end up in landfill or incineration facilities,” says Gijs.

“Either way you lose the calcium carbonate and burning it will generate carbon dioxide (CO2),” Gijs explains. “Our technology to recover calcium carbonate will mean less waste in the landfill or incinerator, and also less reliance on mining.”

From paper to paint

What AkzoNobel finds especially exciting about Alucha’s technology is that the calcium carbonate recovered from paper sludge is an essential raw material we use in our paint. This non-commodity supply offers a relatively low cost and efficient way to make our products more sustainable and circular.

Participating in the circular economy – which AkzoNobel is keen to do – means reducing or eliminating our waste and our continual use of resources. It certainly helps to find new and more sustainable sources like this one made possible by Alucha.

Alucha entered the Paint the Future challenge knowing that the paint industry was an important consumer of calcium carbonate. Now their research has paid off. Our two companies have a sourcing agreement in place and are working closely together on next steps.

Launching customer

Rinske says: “At AkzoNobel, we intend to buy this mineral from Alucha and become their launching customer. We’re very excited for opportunities to use recycled raw materials in our products. Our partnership with Alucha is one such example supporting our ‘People. Planet. Paint.’ sustainability ambitions.”

In the coming months, we’ll be testing the calcium carbonate Alucha collected from its pilot phase at the Sassenheim laboratory in the Netherlands. We’ve decided to use the recycled calcium carbonate in a filler to start with. Because of the filler’s relatively small scale, it’ll be easier to test, integrate and launch.

“Finding your first customer, especially if it’s a large corporation like AkzoNobel, is a sign of trust that there is real potential,” says Gijs. “We’re now creating a consortium of partners in order to create the world’s first circular calcium carbonate ‘mine’.”

“We’re supporting Alucha in their quest for funding and beyond,” says Rinske. “If all turns out well, we expect to launch the first products infused with Alucha’s magic in 2021.”

Stick with us for this exciting journey! Stay tuned for updates as we work with Alucha and the other four winning startups to develop their technologies.