New European Bauhaus start-up Norbite: "What is more beautiful than implementing the treasures of nature in new solutions?"
In this fourth episode, we meet Nathalie Berezina, co-founder of the Swedish startup Norbite. Together with Crafting Future (GE), Nabo Farm (DK) and Inoqo (AU), Norbite is part of the first cohort of the booster program.
Aesthetics, sustainability, circularity, and inclusiveness are the building blocks to deliver the European Green Deal and make our cities more sustainable with higher social values. The EIT Community, led by EIT Food, uses these values within the New European Bauhaus (NEB) mission, to address urban food systems challenges. Through its booster program, it supports selected startups that match the NEB Values to bring their ideas to new markets and scale them up.
In this fourth episode, we meet Nathalie Berezina, co-founder of the Swedish startup Norbite. Together with Crafting Future (GE), Nabo Farm (DK) and Inoqo (AU), Norbite is part of the first cohort of the New European Bauhaus booster program.
Can you tell us a bit more about Norbite?
“Norbite provides solutions for two different problems: the accumulation of plastic waste and the need for more healthy food solutions. We do this by transforming plastic waste into animal feed and biofertilizers through an insect-based biorefinery,” explains Nathalie Berezina. “People often forget that plastic is not only packaging. It's also different types of materials, like textiles, furniture, mattresses, [and] cushions. Some of those materials can be well recycled, whereas others, particularly mixtures, co-polymers, foams, etc, are unrecyclable and are only destinated to the incineration."
"And it is worth to know that each and every kg of incinerated plastic material liberates 2,5 kg of CO2 in our atmosphere. This also means that we have very diverse customers using our service”, Berezina continues, “and on the other side, we are working with insects which we bio refine at the end of the process. This means that we process them to obtain proteins and lipids. The products made from this process are very suitable for animal feed and even for food applications, as their aminoacid composition is very nicely balanced and presents suitable nutritional value.
“It's one of the reasons why we are talking to the space industry to accompany astronauts on trips to other planets. For this use case, we imagine a long stay without any possible supply of food from Earth and neither any waste treatment. So our circular approach of transforming waste streams into the food value chain, is something that’s of extreme interest to them.”
"Our circular approach of transforming waste streams into the food value chain, is something that’s of extreme interest to [...] the space indrustry"
How does Norbite represent the NEB values of sustainability, inclusivity and aesthetics?
“We believe that inclusiveness is a crucial approach if we want to improve our lives with new technological solutions. They can only work and have an impact if they benefit a large amount of the population. Through our business model, we work with two streams: transforming unrecyclable plastics and providing healthy food solutions. This bi-sided business model allows us to keep the price low for our customers and provide solutions for everyone while remaining profitable", Berezina explains.
“Furthermore, we can’t create anything resilient in the long term without integrating sustainability in every new process,” she continues. “We are closing the waste loop by creating a new lifecycle for these carbon materials which is very sustainable and contributes to preventing 67% of CO2 emissions which would have been obtained if these same materials would have been incinerated.”
“The same goes for aesthetics. I would say, at some point, something that is inclusive and sustainable cannot be ugly. And, on the other hand, what is not inclusive and not sustainable cannot be beautiful. The fact that we return to a very natural, and even compact, solution to solve the plastic waste problem, is beautiful in itself,” Berezina smiles. “We are contributing to this virtuous circle where we reinvent something that also comes with a new appreciation of what is beautiful, what is aesthetic. Nothing is more beautiful than implementing the treasures of nature in new processes.”
"We are closing the waste loop by creating a new lifecycle for these carbon materials which is very sustainable and contributes to preventing 67% of CO2 emissions [...] if these materials would have been incinerated”
What are you currently working on?
“We are currently working on the modeling of the bridge part of the factory. It’s a nice step forward, beyond prototyping, because it's truly the process of imagining the factory first and then scaling it down to test if and how it works to then scale it up again,” Berezina explains. “Another aspect we are focusing on is improving our knowledge of the relationship between the input – the substrate – and the final product.”
“We have set up paid pilots with different companies that work with plastic waste to test their waste streams and to see how we can help them best. These pilots help us in turn to gather more knowledge about our processes and to tailor-make our products and services to the precise customer’s needs," she continues, “by the end of the year, we would really like to complete our understanding of the physical or chemical preparation treatment of the plastic materials before they can be given to the insects to make the performance as high as possible for the factory.”
Can you identify some challenges you faced and how you solved them?
“Some of the challenges we face are linked to the fact that we are not Swedish natives and don’t have a network here,” Berezina says. “The fact, however, that Sweden is part of EU was really beneficial because ultimately our recognition within the Swedish ecosystem came from recognition we got through different EU programs.”
“On the other side, the kind of project we are working on is called deep tech. So, we may have a very nice proof of concept at laboratory scale but when it’s time to scale it up to an actual business realization, there’s a lack of both finances and facilities to do so as it quickly becomes costly”, she continues. “It remains challenging to find a convenient lab space, the right equipment, and hire skilled people .”
What are your expectations of the NEB Booster Program? Did you already identify painpoints on which we could help?
“It is remarkably interesting for us to see how you perceive us. Communicating our solution is not our strength as we mostly have a technical and scientific background”, she states. “Furthermore, it's important for us to improve our financial and economic analysis skills in order to help us to anticipate different financial aspects and strategies such as loans or grant applications.”