Novoloop, a California materials-science startup, has launched what it’s billing as the world’s first thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) made with post-consumer recycled polyethylene waste, such as plastic grocery bags and milk jugs.
The material, which goes by the moniker Xirc (pronounced “circ,” like “circular”), boasts mechanical performance properties comparable with those of commercial virgin-grade TPUs, including high elasticity, exceptional abrasion resistance and excellent dry and wet grip, making it suitable for footwear, sporting goods and automotive applications, said CEO Miranda Wang.
Xirc is also better for the environment, she said. Not only is it a high-value material made from plastic trash, but it’s also created in a less polluting way. A third-party life cycle analysis of Novoloop’s proprietary process, called ATOD, found that it generated 45 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional TPU manufacturing techniques.
Novoloop works with GreenWaste Recovery, the waste processor for the city of San Jose, along with a certified post-consumer plastic processor from southern California to collect and chemically break down the carbon-rich polyethylene feedstock into “building blocks,” which are then purified and “built back up,” Wang told Sourcing Journal.
Xirc, which is customizable according to brand needs, can be made with up to 50 percent of the reclaimed polyethylene. Novoloop is working on increasing the amount of recycled content, but Wang says the company is limited by other additives that make up a polyurethane, such as those that imbue color or confer UV-resistant properties. But unlike other sustainable TPUs, such as those made from sugar-derived biomaterials, Xirc’s inputs don’t compete with food crops for land or require pesticides to grow.
Another thing Xirc has going for it? It’s a plug-and-play solution. “One of the great things about our material—and what we’ve been able to engineer—is that it is designed to be a drop-in replacement,” Wang said. “So any [brand] can use it in the same molds and the same compounding machines and get the same shoe coming out.”
While Wang declined to say how much more Xirc costs, Novoloop is confident it’ll be able to achieve price parity with virgin TPU once it hits commercial scale with the help of investors such as Mistletoe, Elemental Excelerator and SOSV. The company is also about to embark on a Series A funding round. With a greater number of consumers seeking sustainable alternatives to the products they buy, Wang is certain Xirc will win plenty of fans.
“We believe this is the best option right now for folks looking for performance materials,” Wang said.