1st December 2023
Thrings Solicitor Kiran Maher meets Neil Morris, Co-founder and CEO of award-winning sustainable biomaterials pioneer Kelpi
Kiran Maher: What is Kelpi and how did it get started?
Neil Morris: We are a sustainable biomaterials business, founded in Bath but now based in Bristol, that has patented seaweed-based coating to replace fossil fuel-based plastic packaging.
The idea came from a simple piece of plastic packaging for fish that I had bought from a supermarket. Whilst the fish had a shelf-life of eight days, the plastic would hang around for another 1,000 years releasing microplastics and other toxins behind even once it’s gone.
Along with my co-founder Murray Kenneth, I walked into the office of University of Bath Professor Chris Chuck, put the packaging on his desk and said we think we can do better. Kelpi was born!
KM: Why seaweed?
NM: Seaweed is nothing short of a miracle crop, especially where climate change is concerned. It grows prolifically, sequestering huge amounts of carbon dioxide as it does and in doing so, deacidifies the ocean.
For Kelpi though, its real advantage is that it also provides an outstanding feedstock for us to build the bio materials we can use to replace fossil fuels. The biomaterial we have created, that is already being trialled by our high-profile partners like L’Oreal, sheds no microplastics or toxins at all. When it breaks down, it does so into fully natural materials.
KM: What motivates you as a business?
NM: To us, the most important way to bring about solutions to tackle climate change is to bring the worlds of science and business together, it is very much at the core of our organisation with everything about amplifying both together to accelerate change.
There is a huge ambition shared by everyone at Kelpi to have an impact on a global scale, and it is fantastic to work with some of the most environmentally focused commercial organisations in the world who are series about what sustainable packaging can mean for their business.
I’m also extremely proud that our diverse team comes from a range of nationalities and is fifty percent female. Our focus, however, is not on ticking a diversity box but is on creating a world class team that will allow us to look at challenges and opportunities from a range of viewpoints. We might have been born in Bath and are now in Bristol but what we are committed to addressing is a whole world problem.
KM: What inspired you to establish yourself in Bristol?
NM: Having spent the first two years building the business in the labs at Bath University, once we outgrew them, Bristol was always the natural step for us. We have people come from all over the world to work for us and our being in Bristol is often a major attraction.
There is a different attitude here to many other places. Bristol is fantastic when it comes to thinking differently and challenging the dominant logic around plastics with the city home to some incredible businesses and charities that are all about championing sustainability.
KM: What are the challenges your sector faces in being able to achieve its targets?
NM: Regulation is both a great enabler and the creator of significant obstacles for us, providing us with opportunities but also failing to take account of the huge progress we can achieve through biomaterials.
Legislation like the plastic tax, whilst introduced with the intention of reducing the reliance on virgin fossil fuel plastics, fails to exempt bio-plastics from the tax and doesn’t address the issues related to plastics in a holistic way.
The other challenge is access to feedstocks and the production capability. We are on the leading edge of a new industry and it will take time to get to the economies of scale to match the convenience of plastics.
KM: What does the future hold for Kelpi?
NM: We are focused on continuing to scale rapidly and have unlimited ambition in taking on the huge challenge before us.
Next year we are opening another investment round which will enable us to double the size of the business and then double it again so we can continue to have an impact on a global scale and bring products more rapidly to market.
Kelpi has developed a world leading solution to the microplastics problem and will remain a science-led organisation as we play our part in the massive tide of change across the industry. To find out more about Kelpi, visit www.kelpi.net.