U of M Research Spawns Green Start-up

A biodegradable plastic developed by a University of Minnesota biochemist has led to an Arkansas start-up that will manufacture what it claims are environment-friendly plastic bags.

Using technology developed by University of Minnesota biochemist Simo Sarkanen, four students from the University of Arkansas have launched a start-up-CycleWood Solutions, Inc.-that will manufacture biodegradable plastic bags.

The Fayetteville, Arkansas-based company's Xylobag will be made of a lignin-based biodegradable plastic that was developed by Sarkanen. The plastic decomposes naturally in 150 days and is hence an environment-friendly alternative to conventional plastic, according to CycleWood.

The four students needed a business idea for an entrepreneurship class when they found Sarkanen's technology on the University of Minnesota's Office for Technology Commercialization Web site. They then completed an option agreement for the technology and later licensed it to launch the start-up.

CycleWood was incorporated in Delaware in September, according to its Web site, and its leaders are now looking to raise capital and initiate a manufacturing strategy.

According to a University of Minnesota news release, CycleWood President and CEO Nhiem Cao anticipates that the cost of the biodegradable bags will be slightly higher than the cost of traditional plastic bags. Several corporate retailers have already indicated interest in the bags, the university added.

CycleWood was recently named a regional winner of the 2011 Cleantech Open-a business-plan competition for green start-ups-and will go on to compete in the national competition in November.