Biomimicry Institute Announces Sparxell as Top Nature-Inspired Startup for 2023; Anodyne Chemistries recognized as Runner-Up
The Biomimicry Institute has awarded the 2023 Ray of Hope Prize® to Sparxell, a British startup creating the next generation of colors and effects with vibrant, metallic pigments, all from plant cellulose. By using cellulose to make pigments, Sparxell shows how nature can color our world without the harmful environmental and social impacts of mined and synthetic minerals. As a recipient of the 2023 Ray of Hope Prize, Sparxell will receive $100,000 in recognition of their groundbreaking nature-inspired work.
Conventional substances used to make our cosmetics, fabrics, paints and packaging bright and colorful often contain metal or oil ingredients. For example, the most common pigment, titanium dioxide, causes a white discoloration and is used in products from toothpaste to paper. Titanium dioxide has recently been recognized as a carcinogen and banned from food and pharmaceutical products in the EU. In addition, many pigments are extracted in areas with many cases of human rights violations and where water is scarce. There are some bio-derived alternatives, but none could compete on price… until Sparxell.
Sparxell has developed the first environmentally sustainable, non-toxic pigments, glitters, sequins and films. Inspired by nature’s structural colors, such as those of a butterfly wing or peacock feather, their patented manufacturing technique transforms cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) into uniformly reflective, highly dispersible particles with state-of-the-art performance. The pigments are a fully biodegradable, more readily available alternative with an unlimited range of vibrant colours. Because they can tune the structural color pigments to reflect specific bands of light, their pigments even enable new types of colors. All this is possible in compliance with recent EU regulations on microplastics such as glitter.
“We are proud to support Sparxell as the 2023 recipient of the Ray of Hope Prize for their work to eliminate toxic chemicals from dyes,” said Dr. Sarah McInerney, Ray of Hope Program Manager at the Biomimicry Institute. “The incredible Sparxell team has developed a truly unique performance pigment from plant cellulose, setting a new environmental standard for a diverse range of industries. As a platform technology, the potential environmental and social impact of this solution is enormous. We couldn’t be better. I’m happy to support them on their journey.”
That journey began at the University of Cambridge’s Bio Inspired Photonics Lab (UK), where Sparxell’s founders replicated the exact nanostructure that gives the fruit of Pollia condensata (marbleberry) its vibrant blue color using cellulose and nothing else. Now their growing team is poised to transform industries as diverse as cosmetics, paints, fabrics, automotive coatings and packaging, with sustainable, vibrant dyes totaling a $65 billion market.
This year’s second place goes to Canada Anodyne chemistry, which uses nature’s catalysts, enzymes, to solve the chemical industry’s dependence on fossil fuels, replacing high-temperature petrochemistry with a sustainable bioelectric process. Currently, the chemical industry is responsible for approximately 5% of global CO2 emissions. Transforming this sector is critical to moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy and achieving net zero targets. Anodyne Chemistries has developed a method of bioelectric production that can compete with the petrochemical economy, overcome the limitations of biological fermentation and outperform electrochemistry, which are the key industrial processes and emerging technologies for chemical production, respectively. This technology could decarbonize the chemical industry while applying the principles of Green Chemistry to create a new generation of climate-positive chemicals.
“I am excited about the quality of all of this year’s Ray of Hope Prize finalists, especially Sparxell and Anodyne Chemistries,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and member of the selection committee. “These companies are in completely different sectors, but each has a solid business plan, a compelling biomimicry story and, most importantly, an authentic social and environmental ethos. Anodyne’s enzymes offer an exciting route to low-carbon chemicals, while Sparxell has unlocked cellulose as a source for pigments of virtually any color. With nature as teachers, they are ready to positively disrupt their industries.”
Other Ray of Hope award finalists include Acatechol, Inc. (United States), BloomX (Israel), Cellugy (Denmark), CompPair Technologies (Switzerland), Coral Vita (United States), Ivu Biologics Inc (United States), Lux Bio (formerly Nyoka) (Canada), and Noovi (formal Vitiport) (Slovakia).
The Ray of Hope Prize, created in honor of the late pioneer in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship Ray C Anderson, is awarded each year to the world’s best nature-inspired startup after 10 finalist teams complete a 10-week accelerator program. This year, Sparxell, Anodyne Chemistries and the eight other participating companies were selected from a pool of 215 applications from 54 different countries. The finalists and recipients were chosen through a series of expert judging panels, including investors and trusted experts in biomimicry, industry and entrepreneurship, including representatives from NASA, Overview Earth and L’Oréal. All program participants learned about sustainable business practices, met mentors from industry and startups, refined their science communication skills, and were invited to an immersive retreat in Yosemite National Park to reconnect with the natural world and forge bonds with their fellow bio-inspired innovators.
The 2023 Ray of Hope Prize was made possible by the Biomimicry Institute’s generous partners, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, with support from the Bentley Environmental FoundationAnd L’Oréal. For more information about the Ray of Hope Award or how you can support this initiative, visit biomimicry.org/rayofhopeprize or send an email to email@example.com.
About the Biomimicry Institute
The Biomimicry Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2006 that empowers people to pursue nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. To further the solution process, the Institute offers AskNature.org, a free online tool with strategies from nature and examples of ways they are used in design. It also offers a biomimicry curriculum and hosts a Youth Design Challenge to support project-based learning; a Biomimicry Launchpad to help scientists, inventors and innovators turn their nature-inspired ideas into reality; and the Ray of Hope Prize®, which identifies the world’s best nature-inspired startups and fuels their growth by offering a 10-week program focused on sustainable business training, communications support and non-dilutive financing opportunities. The Institute’s collaborative initiative, Design for Transformation, tests technologies that convert discarded clothing and textiles into biocompatible raw materials. For more information, visit biomimicry.org.
Marc Cappelletti, Director of Marketing and Outreach