UBQ out to divert landfill-bound plastics from litter to resin
Cincinnati — Armed with tens of millions of dollars in new funding, UBQ Materials Ltd. anticipates opening the company's first facility in North America and a second site in Europe to transform trash into a thermoplastic alternative.
Tel Aviv-based UBQ is moving closer to production at the company's first full-scale commercial location in the Netherlands, but has plans far beyond this location, according to Derek Schaefer, vice president at UBQ Materials North America.
The company uses a patented process to transform trash, including organics such as kitchen waste and plastics that would otherwise go to landfills, to create a material that's suitable for inclusion in new plastic products.
UBQ can be used both by itself and as an additive into the manufacturing process, the company said.
UBQ — the name was selected as a shortened form of the word "ubiquitous" — breaks down waste into lignin, cellulose, fibers and sugars before reassembling them into a matrix, the company said. Mixed plastics from the waste stream are then melted and bound into the matrix to create UBQ, described by the company as "a composite thermoplastic material."
Schaefer was at the Re|Focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit in Cincinnati, talking about UBQ and the company's plans. During his presentation and an interview afterwards, he walked a line between explaining the company's unique approach and revealing too much for competitive reasons.
He described the process this way:
"We take out the moisture, and then basically shred it, so it looks like a confetti. Then it goes through the UBQ process where we are combining everything together by breaking them down to individual components and then reconstituting them back into a novel material system," Schaefer said.
UBQ Materials, the company, also calls output from its process UBQ, so the language can get a bit confusing.
But UBQ Materials spent several years under the radar developing its process to be absolutely sure of the technology before taking it to market, Schaefer explained.
Armed with $170 million in new funding raised late last year, the first outside money UBQ Materials accepted, now is the time to make a mark, he said.
That's starting with the Netherlands facility, which was announced in 2020 before the latest investments.
"Right now, it is currently under construction. When we acquired the building we still needed to do some light fabrication, so that's going on right now. But we fully anticipate having the facility be commissioned in late fourth quarter this year," Schaefer said in an interview with Plastics News.
Plans are to host customers at the location during the K show, the largest plastics trade show, being held in October in nearby Düsseldorf, Germany.
"We're hoping by first quarter we will actually be getting feedstock in, starting to develop it, and hopefully by April, May full commercial volume should be coming out of the facility," Schaefer said.
UBQ already is working with some big brands such as PepsiCo Inc., McDonald's and Daimler to utilize UBQ material into items such as trays, pallets and automotive parts.
As development takes place in the Netherlands, the company also is actively looking at where new locations make sense. The company's initial site is located in Kibbutz Tse'elim in southern Israel.
"We're looking at different parts of the world. We'll probably announce a facility or two facilities by the year's end. The U.S. for sure is on the radar and possibly another one in Europe. Locations are to be determined," Schaefer said.
Securing outside funding is allowing the company to accelerate to ramp up commercial production.
"We're very fortunate now to have the capital and the demand. So it's coming at a really good time for the market," he said.
While Schaefer said the company is keeping facility development costs "very close to our vest," he did indicate UBQ Materials hopes to leverage the latest investments to attract additional grant money or other funding.
Constructing a new facility is more expensive now than it was a couple of months ago, and the price could continue to rise, he said. But the company is ready to account for those rising costs and move forward during inflationary times. "While we are very cognizant of that, we can't wait anymore," he said, about rolling out the technology.
The latest funding was led by TPG Rise, an investing platform for private equity firm TPG of San Francisco. Other investors include Battery Ventures out of Boston and M&G Investments of London.
Schaefer also addressed concerns that UBQ is taking plastic away from other recyclers through the company's approach. He stressed his firm is only interested in waste that would otherwise be headed for disposal after removal of plastics for mechanical or chemical recycling efforts.
He said the amount of plastic that gets recycled is still small, leaving plenty of plastics in landfill-bound trash to satisfy the company's processing requirements.