Plastics have consumed us. Over 400 million tons are produced annually around the world but less than 10 percent gets recycled. The result: 350 million tons of plastic — the equivalent of over 10 million full garbage trucks — ends up in landfills each year, where it will sit for centuries
But what if we could give used plastic an entirely new life before it even reaches the landfill?
And do so while increasing the circularity of the $91 billion waste market?
Dr. Ryan Hackler, founder and CEO of Aeternal Upcycling, wants to curb the plastic waste crisis we face today. Aeternal Upcycling’s mission: Reduce our carbon and environmental footprint by transforming plastic waste into higher-value materials used for industrial manufacturing and consumer product applications. The Ph.D. chemist and scientist discovered and developed the technology behind Aeternal Upcycling while conducting materials science research at Argonne National Laboratory alongside his co-founder, Robert Kennedy.
“Our technology not only diverts plastic away from the waste stream and into the circular economy but can reduce carbon emissions by up to 75 percent compared to the use of traditional petrochemicals,” says Hackler. “Our plastics upcycling technology represents a sustainable alternative where limited solutions currently exist.”
The duo pioneered Aeternal Upcycling’s novel process, known as Hydrogenolysis, to transform discarded plastic into key ingredients like waxes, lubricants, and detergents used to make packaging, coatings, cosmetics, lubricants, home goods, and much more. The innovative technology was backed by ARPA-E funding, a government agency that funds the development of impactful advanced energy technologies. Aeternal Upcycling’s solution serves as an alternative to using fossil fuels and has the opportunity to potentially save millions of tons of plastic from entering landfills annually.
“By supporting and uplifting the critical work of diverse entrepreneurs, we can collectively reduce our environmental impact for generations to come,” said Meena Beyers, vice president of Business and Community Development at Nicor Gas. “Our clean energy future depends on the novel discoveries and ingenuity of innovative leaders like Dr. Hackler at Aeternal Upcycling.”
The 2023 Nicor Gas Multicultural Innovator Award provides Aeternal Upcycling with a $25,000 grant from Nicor Gas and 12 months of business mentorship and investor and customer connections from Evergreen Climate Innovations.
“We’re proud to continue our work with Nicor Gas to support climate-focused startups in our home state of Illinois,” said Erik Birkerts, CEO of Evergreen Climate Innovations. “Scaling Aeternal Upcycling’s technology with this catalytic capital and business support opens the door for more companies to increase the circularity of their supply chains and reduce the amount of fossil fuels utilized to create plastic materials.”
A current fellow at Argonne National Laboratory’s Chain Reaction Innovations program, Hackler and his team bring over 20 years of materials science research experience to the climate tech playing field. Aeternal Upcycling will leverage the new funding and mentorship opportunity to refine the company’s sales and marketing strategy and scale its team with a focus on further research and development of its technology.
Through his award recognition and journey ahead, Hackler hopes to inspire future generations of multicultural entrepreneurs to turn their knowledge, passion, and expertise into positive environmental change. Hackler is equally eager to bring more visibility and representation of diverse science and climate technology leaders to the forefront.
“True disruption requires challenging the status quo and being receptive to the valuable input of people with different viewpoints and experiences,” says Hackler. “Driving radical change with novel technologies is not only crucial for our industry but for our changing climate too. Combining new and diverse ideas, novel technologies, and legacy wisdom presents a winning recipe that will help us persevere — and thrive — in our fight to enable environmental solutions that will have a lasting impact on our climate, and allow us to create a sustainable and equitable society.”
2023 marks the third year of the Nicor Gas Multicultural Innovator Award program. Information on how to apply for the 2024 award will be available at evergreeninno.org/start-up-opportunities later this year.