Azolla is one of the few startups that can produce a carbon-sucking textile, thus providing a high-quality material while mitigating climate change and its impact on the clothing industry.
We reached out to Lubica Hanacek, co-founder and CEO, to learn more about the company’s product, the market landscape, and her passion for the textile industry.
In your own words, how would you describe your company?
Addressing the climate crisis while maintaining economic growth is one of today’s biggest challenges. A major contribution to environmental degradation comes from the manufacturing of consumer products, which involves the use of limited natural resources, such as petroleum and wood, also toxic manufacturing processes, and complex supply chain logistics, resulting in detrimental environmental and economic impacts.
Azolla’s carbon-to-value regenerative biomanufacturing technology can potentially become a transformative asset in this struggle. Our technology transforms CO2 into natural biomaterial that can make everyday products, starting with textiles. Our goal is to empower industries to transition from destroying nature to satisfying consumer demands and restoring nature.
What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?
I spent over 20 years working in the textile industry. I witnessed first-hand the devastating effect it has on the environment, so for me, creating solutions to mitigate the impacts of the industry is deeply personal.
To create materials for the future, we went back 50 million years when the levels of CO2 were extremely high, and the future of our planet was bleak. A tiny fern called Azolla came to the rescue and sucked the carbon dioxide out of the air, slowly creating a climate where life could thrive. Inspired by nature’s ability to “make things” literally out of thin air, using only CO2 and sunlight, we have invented a simple restorative way to make high-performance biomaterial.
Who is on your team, and how did you come together?
My husband and I founded Azolla. Our journey began behind the Iron Curtain, where our future was pretty bleak. We decided to risk our lives and escape; we crawled across the border with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and when we arrived in New York as young political refugees, we knew that if we could accomplish that, we can do anything! We chose careers where we could create things and after spending decades in fashion and architecture, we were deeply troubled by how our industries are destroying nature and the environment. At the same time, companies and consumers are desperately searching for sustainable alternatives, so we saw an opportunity to develop a material that will satisfy these needs and have a positive impact on the environment.
A couple of startups are trying to develop technologies to make textiles with CO2. How do you differentiate from them?
Founders’ grit and determination – we are political refugees; we have literally crawled across a border to freedom and arrived in the US with nothing but big dreams and the clothes on our backs. Through hard work, courage, and determination, we have achieved considerable success in our careers. We understand that realizing our vision to commercialize Azolla’s technology successfully will present many challenges, and we know that we can overcome any obstacle as a team.
I believe that Azolla’s distinctive strength lies in the founders’ practical experience in product development, project management, and manufacturing.
The ability to bring together a diverse community of experts in synthetic biology, material engineering, environmental science, and manufacturing gives us a strategic advantage to bring our technology to market at an accelerated pace.
Simple process – In contrast to our competitors, Azolla’s simple 3 step process mimics photosynthesis found in nature, utilizing CO2 as the principal feedstock, which is readily available and unlimited, and the process eliminates the costs associated with upstream and downstream processing, not to mention that it is geographically agnostic.
What milestones do you need to achieve before reaching commercialization?
We are currently working with several National Labs on completing the proof-of-concept stage. At the same time, we are forming strategic partnerships with fashion brands to collaborate on a pilot program that will result in the production of our carbon-negative material for a specific performance textile product. To bring our technology to market on a large scale, we plan on licensing it to companies looking to enhance their existing production with sustainable options.
How will the final textile compare in terms of costs with traditional textiles?
My years in the textile industry afford me a deep understanding of what our customers want and need because I WAS the customer. I was responsible for material sourcing and know that when making purchasing decisions, cost is #1 consideration, followed by performance.
Because Azolla’s only raw material is readily available CO2 and the simple process that mimics nature’s photosynthesis eliminates the chemical and mechanical manipulation of raw materials, at scale, the price of our material will be comparable with traditional performance textiles.
I believe that Azolla’s technology will be widely accepted because it delivers a superior product and considerable revenue potential and meets the urgent sustainability goals that all companies aspire to.
How long will the fabric last and how will it send of life be managed?
The biomaterial produced by Azolla’s technology is pure nanocellulose, so it will last as long as your cotton of viscose textiles does. Because it’s natural, it can degrade and won’t release any harmful microplastics to the environment during its use. It is designed for cradle-to-cradle circularity and can be recycled repeatedly while maintaining consistent fiber quality.
How can investors measure the impact of your company?
Azolla’s process consumes 3 tons per ton of biopolymer. Polyester production generates more than 5 tons of CO2 per ton of fiber, viscose generates 3 tons, and cotton 2 tons.
Today, 55% of textile manufacturers aim to source half of their products with sustainable materials by 2025. However, presently, only 1% of textiles are labeled sustainable. The industry is actively seeking viable fiber options to help it meet its ambitious environmental goals. Azolla has the potential to fill the remaining 99% market need, providing the committed half of the textile industry with a sustainably produced carbon negative fiber.
Azolla’s invention is uniquely positioned to offer significant and long-term broader socio-economic benefits at the time of commercialization due to its ability to remove atmospheric and industrial CO2, as well as introduce scalable, affordable, and completely sustainable industrial production of materials usable in a multitude of industries, thus turning waste material into a valuable product. Our ultimate goal is to create solutions that tackle prevailing challenges and shape a brighter, more resilient, and sustainable future for all.