Tame Impala-backed biotech ULUU raises $8m as it looks to combat plastic waste with seaweed

Tame Impala-backed biotech ULUU raises $8m as it looks to combat plastic waste with seaweed

(L-R): ULUU co-founder Dr Julia Reisser, Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker and ULUU co-founder Michael Kingsbury (Provided)

A Perth-based company creating biomaterials out of seaweed to replace plastic has raised $8 million in a seed round led by CSIRO-backed deep tech investor Main Sequence, in addition to securing contributions from celebrities Karlie Kloss and Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker.

Founded by Dr Julia Reisser and Michael Kingsbury in 2020, ULUU will use the capital injection to scale the production of its compostable polymer - called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) - which is created in a fermentation process using farmed seaweed, seawater and saltwater microbes.

ULUU’s raise saw a consortium of strategic investors participate, including Alberts Impact Ventures, Mistletoe and Possible Ventures. Respected figures in the music and arts industry also joined via Main Sequence’s social impact community Voice Capital, including Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn, Future Classic CEO and co-founder Nathan McLay and Australian chef and restauranteur Neil Perry.

“Today’s plastic problem reaches far beyond single-use water bottles and straws. Most people don’t realise that plastic has become a ubiquitous part of every aspect of our lives. From the clothes we wear, through to the beauty products we use and the cars we drive — it’s everywhere, and our planet is suffering as a result,” Reisser said.

“At ULUU, we’ve discovered a way to create a versatile range of natural polymers called PHAs that can mimic the durability of plastic, but have the added benefit of being biodegradable and compostable.

“Our fermentation process, which is similar to brewing beer, allows us to maintain a clean production process using ocean resources including seaweed and seawater.”

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years and accounts for 3.4 per cent of global greenhouse gases. More than 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic waste have been generated globally, with only 9 per cent successfully recycled.

To combat the issue, 20 countries have committed to an UN-led pledge to end plastic pollution by 2040, including Canada, Belgium, Chile, France, Ghana, Rwanda, the UK and others.

While not included in the list, Australia has rolled out national packaging targets, which aim to make 100 per cent of packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and 70 per cent of plastic packaging recycled or composted by 2025.

ULUU claims its versatile range of PHAs has the potential to replace many – if not all - plastics currently used today. The polymer is produced via a fermentation process that is similar to brewing beer and creates a material that can biodegrade in the ocean within months.

Kingsbury said the backing from influential voices such as Karlie Kloss and Kevin Parker will be instrumental in helping the company get a foothold in industries such as fashion and beauty.

“In order to make a real change in this world, we need powerful voices for good,” Kingsbury said.

“We are humbled to have their support and look forward to combining our expertise and public reach to make a difference in addressing this planetary problem. Together, we’re helping bring the world into a post-plastic era.”

Main Sequence partner Phil Morle added that ULUU’s natural polymers have the potential to permanently replace many of the plastics we use today in clothing, packaging, accessories and more.

“The plastic problem is one of the biggest crises we face as humanity and one we must tackle now. Julia and Michael are incredibly ambitious and perfectly positioned to make this happen quickly.”

ULUU is currently based at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre in WA, due to co-location support from the University of Western Australia. Product development and engineering R&D will continue there following the funding round.

The company's funding round comes only two weeks after Samsara Eco, which uses plastic-eating enzymes to infinitely recycle waste, raised $54 million in Series A funding round backed by returning investors Main Sequence, Woolworths Group’s W23 and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) Innovation Fund.

Kevin Parker and Tame Impala bandmates have promoted eco-friendly initiatives during their The Slow Rush tour, collaborating with nonprofit REVERB to reduce the environmental footprint of touring and help fight climate change.

“We’ve had many conversations as a band about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and there is so much more we can be doing, both personally and collectively,” said Parker.

“I’m really excited to be supporting ULUU because I believe that they are bringing sustainable solutions to global problems. And if I can help by using our platform to spread awareness about what they are doing, then I think we can implement some really positive changes.” 

Karlie Kloss added that there’s a plenty of powerful innovation happening with environmental sustainability and we must spend time learning about and supporting companies working to find eco solutions to the problems our planet faces. 

“That’s exactly why I’m so proud to invest in ULUU and its mission for a greater, greener future,” she said.

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