Healix manufactures new raw materials from plastics from the maritime sector

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About Healix

  • Founders: Marcel Alberts
  • Creation date: January 2021
  • Employees: 18
  • Amount raised: 10.5 million euros
  • Ultimate Goal: Healix helps break the plastic tide (the why) by creating a circular future for plastic fiber waste (the how).

Every year, thousands of kilos of fishing nets end up in the ocean. Marcel Alberts, the founder of Healix, based in the Dutch city of Maastricht, is determined to rid the oceans of fishing nets. With other companies, he wants to preserve maritime life by recovering fishing nets out of the water and transforming them into polymer raw material. Thanks to his experience at DSM, he was able to quickly develop his clientele. In this episode of the start-up of the day, he explains how Healix will achieve this.

Can you briefly explain how you moved from DSM to Healix?

“I did my end-of-studies internship Technical Management Sciences at DSM. After my internship, I ended up staying at DSM and doing marketing sales for many years. I was in charge of the commercial side of Dyneema, one of the most resistant fibers in the world, which is also used to manufacture bulletproof vests. After working with great pleasure at DSM, I started my own company where we applied fibers with a coating. We had developed a special technology for this, which gave the fibers a different color and also improved the properties of the fibers. This company grew incredibly fast, and after eight years, a private equity club in Amsterdam knocked on the door with an offer I ultimately couldn’t refuse. It had been going so well for so long, what if all of a sudden things went wrong? So I sold the business.

“Working under a boss, not a lot of travel and a corona that kept everyone at home – I wanted to get back to doing my own thing. After having a good conversation with our investor, who asked me if I couldn’t see any opportunities because of the corona, I started thinking. In the sector in which I worked, there were no new opportunities due to corona. But the world has to change, we have to take better care of our planet. Ultimately, supplying ropes to net makers generates so much waste. Waste that ends up in the ocean and that we ingest indirectly, in addition to causing the extinction of all marine life. The European Commission wants to make manufacturers responsible for this waste. I could do something with that. This is how Healix was born. We went from linear at circular.”

How do you transform fishing nets and ropes into polymers?

“We have developed a process. It comes in bales, these bales are then cut into small pieces. These small pieces can then go through our washing bay. After that, they must be dried properly so that we can melt them. After melting, they are once again passed through a fine sieve to remove all impurities. In the last step, we turn all this into pellets so that they can be used to make new things like new fishing nets, but also shampoo bottles.

“Just to answer your follow-up question; we have an extraction system in the grinder that extracts all the microplastics. This extraction is done with 17,000 cubic meters of air around the crusher, this air is routed through a blower with a JET filter. All the air passes through a separate bag and the microplastics stick to the outside of the bags, the jets of air blowing against the bags knock the microplastics down and into an auger which unscrews them. We take another ride through the wash bay where we remove the microplastics, but use a sieve when the water is separated from the plastic. We use 70,000 liters of water per hour to wash 1,000 kilograms of plastic. We reuse this water again and again. In fact, we have our own treatment plant which is separate from the sewage system.

Who provides the plastic to be recycled?

“Several companies. Our logo is supposed to represent a turtle because I mainly come from the maritime sector. But we are not only collaborating with the maritime sector, we are also keen to help the agricultural sector. In fact, one of our partners is Ocean Cleanup. They provide us with a lot of material. It’s great because they have a lot of junk, including the same things that we can use to make everything work. Former clients of mine also provide materials so they can work in a circular fashion. »

“Farming wasn’t the plan initially, but we need a lot of volume to make the plant profitable. That’s also the biggest challenge we’ve had from the start, getting a sufficient supply of materials to recycling into polymer. I am involved in a trade association, Eurocord, which is mainly made up of maritime parties, but also includes an agricultural company from Israel, Tama. Tama said: ‘Hey Marcel, we share your dream. We don’t want to no longer make our straw binders out of virgin plastic, we want to make them out of recycled plastic. Can you help? That’s how the ball started rolling.

What kinds of problems are you having with your business?

“What I find difficult and unfortunate is that plastic has a very negative image. Everyone considers plastic to be a disposable product. Everything should be single-use and cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. As far as I’m concerned, plastic should be ten times more expensive, it would be nice to tax it. Virgin plastic in particular is expected to be much more expensive. People will then think more carefully about how they use plastic. The use of recycled materials and the recycling of materials would then become much more attractive. It’s something I struggle with because it’s out of my control. It would be really nice if there was someone in control to give us a little nudge in that direction.

“We are a rich country, a rich continent. It may seem a little privileged to be able to make such statements, but let’s start by implementing them ourselves. We can point to poorer countries where they use a lot more plastic and don’t recycle, but we should actually lead by example. We have the money, continue to develop concepts like Healix and Ocean Cleanup. I sometimes worry about the financial situation of Healix because the price per kilogram of recycled plastic is so low that it takes a lot to make ends meet. But once Healix is ​​deployed, it will take less and less money to set up new sites. Healix isn’t about the money, it’s about the circularity of what we already have. The greatest threat to the world is the belief that someone else will save it.”

What will you have to say when we meet again in five years?

“Two things could happen. At that point, I could tell that Healix was really a very dumb idea, one that I really should never have bothered with. The other scenario is I say laughingly; “I remember we were knee-deep in grease at the time, but our business has since matured to an entirely different level.” Obviously, I hope it will be the second, it is our ambition. We now have our factory in Maastricht, a bit of a strange place if you want to recycle fishing nets. We need to develop the process here first, fix the startup issues, and then we can start copying and pasting. Factories in Norway, France, Australia. Small factories all work the same way. Our current plant is set to process 6,000 tons per year, we are not there yet as we only started operating in January 2021, but in five years of course it will be nothing for us .

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