Thai tech pioneer converts waste into wealth

Dec 04, 2010 by Daniel Rook
Paijit Sangchai demonstrates recycling laminated paper at his office in Bangkok. His Thai firm, Flexoresearch, has developed a series of blended enzymes that can recover pulp or fibre from laminated paper such as cigarette packets, stickers or milk cartons that were previously hard or impossible to recycle.

Paijit Sangchai drops a small piece of laminated paper into a jar of cloudy liquid which he hopes will transform his start-up into a multi-million dollar company and help revolutionise recycling.

"Now this is the fun part," he says a few minutes later, holding it under the tap to wash away soggy paper pulp and reveal a clear .

His Thai firm, Flexoresearch, has developed a series of blended enzymes that can recover pulp or fibre from laminated paper such as cigarette packets, stickers or milk cartons that were previously hard or impossible to recycle.

First one enzyme attacks the water resistant chemical coating the surface, then others take over and tackle the paper and adhesive layers.

The resulting pulp, he says, can be used to produce new paper products -- thus saving trees -- or turned into building materials that can be used as an alternative to asbestos, which is potentially hazardous to human health.

The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, also produces clean plastic that can be recycled and used to produce new products.

The firm was recently named one of 31 "Technology Pioneers" by the World Economic Forum, which said its products were "poised to reduce the use of asbestos in the developing world, positively impacting people's health."

Time Magazine described Flexoresearch as one of "10 start-ups that will change your life".

It is a rare honour to be bestowed on an entrepreneur in a country hardly renowned for its technological prowess.

In developing countries such as Thailand, laminated paper is usually thrown away, Paijit says.

"Most people burn it illegally and that causes toxic fumes which harm people's health," he tells AFP at his small laboratory in a science park on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

"For people in developing countries who suffer from the fumes and don't know why they are sick ... it can help improve their lives," he adds.

And while like the United States are able to incinerate laminated paper such as fast food wrappers safely, they do not have any commercially viable way to recycle it either, he says.

"Every country uses laminated paper, in stickers and wrappers of food like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. That's all laminated and people throw it away," he says. "I think this a global market."

Since winning the Technology Pioneer award -- previous recipients of which include Google and Twitter -- Paijit has been flooded with thousands of emails, mostly from venture capitalists interested in investing in his start-up.

But the affable company founder and CEO is not interested in borrowing more money or selling stakes to investors.

He is looking for people overseas who want to licence the technology, which is already attracting interest in countries including Malaysia, Japan, China, South Korea and India.

"I want to work with people around the world to heal the environment," says Paijit.

It is a far cry from the days he spent experimenting with enzymes produced from mushrooms in a home laboratory after quitting a more than decade-long, well-paid career with a leading Thai industrial giant four years ago.

He invested his savings, then borrowed heavily from the bank, putting up his house as collateral to keep the project going and build a paper mill in eastern Bangkok.

At one point the firm was in debt to the tune of about 1.5 million dollars, but it has since repaid all the money and now employs 17 people.

And Paijit is already eyeing ways to turn other problems into profits, including a technique to turn used liquid coolant drained from refrigeration systems into oil that can be used in the construction industry.

"I make a profit from a problem. I convert waste into wealth," he says.

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User comments : 8

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not rated yet Dec 04, 2010
Sweet bit of biotech!
not rated yet Dec 04, 2010
That's neat !!

Perverse situation in parts of UK is that plastic, paper or card items may be recycled easily, but the convenient *layered* packaging that uses a lot less raw material and takes less space in wheelie bin cannot be recycled and, often, only bio-degrades / composts very slowly, leaving plastic film residues...
1 / 5 (3) Dec 04, 2010
""I make a profit from a problem. I convert waste into wealth," he says."
What a greedy SOB! Why shouldn't the UN force him to donate his process for humanity?
not rated yet Dec 04, 2010
I wonder if this would work to break down other cellulose materials for the production of ethanol. Currently, they have to blast plant material apart with heat mechanical abrasion. If they could just dump it in a single vat of enzymes, that performs all of the various steps, and then distil off the alcohol, they could greatly reduce the cost and increase the array of viable feedstocks.
3.2 / 5 (5) Dec 04, 2010
What a greedy SOB! Why shouldn't the UN force him to donate his process for humanity?

I suppose that that was sarcasm but since some people actually think that way I will answer the question.

A) Because punishing people instead of rewarding them for the time, effort and money they use to innovate is a great way to bring innovation to a halt. How many people had been volunteering their own life and money to get this sort of education and pursue this line of inquiry so they could donate the fruits of their labour to the world for free in order to die poor and in debt? Did you do all this? Maybe he is not greedy but rather, you are negligent.

B) Because the UN is too busy with the following: concealing sex crimes against third-world refugees by UN employees, passing resolutions condemning Israel for existing, covering up corruption and placing representatives of human rights violating regimes on "prestigious" human rights committees.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2010
"thus saving trees"

trees need saving? plant more trees.
not rated yet Dec 05, 2010
I am glad someone has found one solution to this overwhelming problem for municipal governments around the globe.Recycling wastes into plastic can also provide suitable building materials for poorer nations since decking is already being produced in vast quantities for many American homes.It might also produce boards for small boats.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
Are the enzymes easily replaced, what are the growth requirements?

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