UW start-up company, MicroGREEN Polymers, takes recycling to a new level

A UW spin-off company is on a mission to create a greener cup for your coffee and more environmentally friendly containers for your food. MicroGREEN Polymers, Inc., based in Arlington, Washington, is developing an expanded plastic made from recyclable water bottles (PET). The patented technology, created in the laboratory of Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Vipin Kumar, creates billions of microcellular bubbles in solid thermoplastics to produce an expanded material that uses only about 20 percent of the original source plastic.

Krishna Nadella, co-founder and CTO, earned his doctorate at UW while assisting Professor Kumar to refine the solidstate microcellular foaming process. With the UW Center for Commercialization and additional investor support, Krishna has guided the seven-year old company through its start-up phase. Company milestones include technology patent protection in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, patents pending in 20 countries, joint development agreements with electronics, defense, and consumer packaged goods companies, and its first royalty-bearing license with a Japanese company that uses the material as a light reflector plate in large-screen LCD TVs.

The UW Center for Commercialization Vice Provost Linden Rhoads introduced the company to Atlas Accelerator, which helped MicroGREEN close its most recent round of funding. MicroGREEN Polymers recently won a 2009 ZINO Zillionaire Investment Fund award for the viability of its business plan.

“The next step is to demonstrate that the expanded sheets can be thermoformed into containers at commercial production speeds,” Nadella said. Food containers are a $25 billion market, and gaining even a small share would be huge.

“The UW Center for Commercialization has had a big hand in getting us to this point and continues to add value and encouragement even after a license has been signed. They are working to keep high-technology jobs in the state,” Nadella said. “And a portion of the royalties paid to UW go back to fund continuing research by Vipin Kumar and his students.” That, in itself, is a fine example of recycling.

MicroGREEN has won admirable recognition during 2010: