This Grey Powder Was A Plastic Bag. Now It's a Valuable Raw Material

Singapore
By:: 
Sabina-Leah Fernandez

Believe it or not this grey powder started its life as a humble plastic bag - just like the kind you use for your shopping. The brains behind this new eco-friendly technology tell you how it works.

They may only be 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair but carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have a huge impact. A powerful conductor of electricity and much stronger than steel, the material has a myriad of uses in rechargeable batteries, high-end electronics, and even some sports products.

But Singapore-based social enterprise BlueRen takes CNTs one step further – by making them eco-friendly. Formerly known as Karboneum, BlueRen’s innovative chemical process treatment turns everyday trash such as plastic bags and empty shampoo bottles into high-value CNTs without releasing any toxic gases and with virtually no carbon footprint. Started by two academics who met at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), BlueRen recently received a DBS Foundation Grant to seed-fund their innovative social enterprise.

Here, founders of the company Wong Chui Ling (right) and Aravind Muthiah talk entrepreneurship, lotus leaves and upcycling.

 

Has it always been your dream to start your own company?

Chui Ling: Not really. The idea seems far-fetched considering the way I was brought up. However, after getting slowly immersed into the start-up scene, it does not seem so daunting. So, I took the leap of faith. 

Aravind: It was while writing Statements of Purpose for applications to universities that I first realised I wanted to use my knowledge of science and technology to serve society. I saw two avenues of service: academia and industry. I preferred industry but found that industry is primarily driven to generate wealth. So I chose an industry that would promote societal well-being through technology while simultaneously generating wealth. This led me to want to start my own company.

How did you come up with the name?

Chui Ling: The name is based on the combination of our vision of pristine water and the lotus flower.  Blue is for water, the life force of human beings, and ren is the Japanese word for lotus which represents our ability to overcome challenges in adversity.

Your product takes a waste product and turns it into something useful across many industries. What do your customers say about this eco-friendly aspect of BlueRen?

Aravind: The keyword here is UPCYCLE, not recycle. Recycling usually involves taking low value waste and converting it into a product of similar or lower value. Customers initially view our product as a product of waste recycling and are a bit hesitant due to the vast array of recycling ideas that failed over the past decade. But when they realise that our product is not about recycling but upcycling where we take low-value waste and convert it to a high-value product, they immediately sit up and take notice. These potential customers are then extremely excited by the concept and are eager to give our product a shot.

 

Why do you think it’s important to upcycle plastic and why are environmental concerns important to you?

Chui Ling: Being a materials scientist, I believe in the circular economy. As such, no materials should go to waste.

Aravind: A tree is valuable to us because it takes waste CO2 and converts it into invaluable oxygen which supports life. At BlueRen, we are like that tree. With nearly 90% of plastic waste in Singapore just being burnt or buried there is a huge concern as to how our future generations will cope with such massive waste. BlueRen offers a viable alternative to existing solutions and ensures that in the process we enhance waste utilisation and minimize carbon dioxide emissions.

What are your future plans for your social enterprise?

Chui Ling: The challenge is to break the mindset that upcycled products are inferior and expensive. Our target is to work on product development right now and then secure our first customer!

Blue Ren makes carbon nano-tubes ecofriendly

What do you love about working on BlueRen?

Chui Ling: The best part is working on a project that brings value to the general public.

Of course, it is also thrilling to own our very creation and be proud of it.

Aravind: As Chui Ling mentioned earlier, BlueRen means ‘Blue Lotus’. A lotus leaf has a self-cleansing characteristic of shrugging away water droplets and dirt because of a property called superhydrophobicity (water repelling). In a similar fashion, we envision the company will shrug off troubles and overcome problems while blooming like a lotus and making the world a more beautiful place to live in. It is these core values that allow us to invest ourselves in BlueRen.

The DBS Foundation supports social enterprises in Asia with its Social Enterprise Grant Programme as well as through other initiatives and programmes.

 

If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

FEATURED SOCIAL ENTERPRISES

You may also like

Be Inspired
Watch the video about Anthea, and two other inspiring female social entrepreneurs. Dubbed a "social movement in silence" Hush Tea Bar is the first silent teabar in Singapore (and some say in the world). The social enterprise brings together founder Anthea Ong's two passions - silent meditation and helping the...
Gamechangers
From edible water bottles to a wearable on-demand masseuse, check out these five cool social innovations that are not only helping make our lives easier but also tackling global issues in new and creative ways 1. Eco-friendly mosquito traps that combat Zika and Dengue fever [Image Courtesy: Biotrap ] Biotraps...
Gamechangers
They overcame the odds to bring solar energy to the masses in Singapore. Meet Sunseap Leasing. Sunseap founders Lawrence Wu (left) and Frank Phuan. Many think of solar energy as lovely in theory but impractical and expensive in practice. But Singaporean company, Sunseap , has challenged that perception. Thanks to...

Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter. SUBSCRIBE NOW!

Top Hits

Live Consciously
Shopping for dad can be a real struggle. But don’t worry, because we’ve rounded up a list of our favourite sustainable gifts for Father’s Day that are bound to please the best dad in the world – your dad. No ties please. [Photo Credit: LSTN ] ZEBRA WOOD SATELITE SPEAKER...
Gamechangers
[This article is also avaliable in: Traditional Chinese (TW) | Traditional Chinese (HK) | Simplified Chinese (CN)] To accelerate social impact, the DBS Foundation gives out Social Enterprise Grants each year to high-potential social ventures that are creating positive social impact. We are pleased to introduce our Grant Awardees for...
Gamechangers
From edible water bottles to a wearable on-demand masseuse, check out these five cool social innovations that are not only helping make our lives easier but also tackling global issues in new and creative ways 1. Eco-friendly mosquito traps that combat Zika and Dengue fever [Image Courtesy: Biotrap ] Biotraps...