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‘Our biodegradable medical gloves may become the global standard’
Michiel Kuijpers and Daan Lamens were once fellow law students. Now, with their company, Euronitrile they have developed a biodegradable, disposable medical glove. This should result in an enormous CO2 reduction, first in Rotterdam and then worldwide. The Citylab010 grant they received in November, has given them another boost.
Quiz question: how many disposable medical gloves does the Erasmus MC use in a year? Daan Lamens answers: ‘15.6 million! And that’s only one hospital. Worldwide, that’s hundreds of billions a year. A bizarre number,’ says Daan. He and business partner, Michiel Kuijpers, want to do something about that, by making biodegradable, disposable medical gloves. They are well on their way, but more about that later.
First, how did Euronitrile come about? The seeds for this do not lie in the hospital, as you might expect, but in the port of Rotterdam. More than two years ago, Daan discovered a massive amount of medical goods in a warehouse there. ‘At that time I was working as a claims lawyer specialized in marine law,’ he explains. Not long after Daan met up again with Michiel Kuijpers, his former fellow law student. After completing his studies, Michiel went to work for the TNO, in the branch responsible for the valorisation of innovative initiatives.
‘I told him about the massive amount of medical goods and how surprised I was, also from an environmental point of view,’ says Daan. ‘Michiel quickly made the link with life sciences & health-innovations that he was working on at the TNO. These were mainly focused on sustainability. From that perspective, he saw great opportunities for producing those medical gloves in a more sustainable way. As we delved deeper into it, we learned that a number of hospitals were also keen to deal with single-use materials in a more sustainable way. We decided to say goodbye to our legal ambitions once and for all, and to set up a joint start-up venture.
TEAM OF SPECIALISTS
With Euronitrile, Daan and Michiel focus on the sustainability of healthcare. For over two years, the pair has been working on a biodegradable medical glove as the first tangible product, together with a large team of experts. Some of the names they are working with are the Erasmus MC and the Reinier de Graaf hospital in Delft, as well as with the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and an emeritus professor in rubber chemical technology.
FROM PETROCHEMICAL TO BIOBASED
‘Medical gloves are currently made of nitrile, a one hundred percent petrochemical product,’ explains Daan. “We have created a new compound, which is a mixture of chemical materials. We removed a petrochemical element and replaced it with a biobased element. For the time being, which element that is, remains our trade secret. We are still looking for the ultimate combination of substances, but we can certainly replace thirty to forty percent of the petrochemical substances. That allows us to greatly reduce the ecological footprint at the start of the production process. That is crucial, because the healthcare in the Netherlands is responsible for seven percent of all CO2 emissions. That has to be reduced.’
103-TON CO2 REDUCTION
At the Erasmus MC alone, the use of the biodegradable medical gloves could result in a 103-ton reduction per year. That is because the Erasmus MC, just like the Reinier de Graaf and the Franciscus Gasthuis & Vlietland among others, have an innovative waste disposal system (the Pharmafilter) where medical waste is broken down. Daan: ‘This system is connected to the sewer, so after purification, the water can be used for flushing toilets, for example. The Erasmus uses the energy that is released to heat the hospital. Up to now, the medical gloves come out of the machine as residue, which still has to be incinerated. Our gloves break down almost completely, and therefore contribute to the generation of power. That is a nice extra benefit.’
The biggest gains are therefore in the production process. Daan and Michiel have a global innovation in their hands, as studies and discussions with patent attorneys and patent experts have shown. ‘The glove industry worldwide is dominated by five large factories in Malaysia, China and Thailand. Their main focus is keeping their factories running. If there were any innovations, they were related to colour or material. For a long time, there was also no demand from the market for a more sustainable product. That is only beginning to emerge, partly due to government regulations and ambitions to reduce the amount of disposable plastic. There was a similar initiative to ours before, but those gloves turned out not to be biodegradable. If it turns out our product really works, and we have every confidence it will, we can set a global standard.’
Before that happens, Daan and Michiel still have to go through the necessary steps. Besides determining the ultimate composition, the glove must, among other things, be certified and tested. The grant awarded by Citylab010 (€ 99,530.00) helps, says Daan. ‘Thanks to those funds, we can make great strides. I think Citylab010 is a fantastic initiative. It shows once again that the city of Rotterdam is happy to support innovations and entrepreneurs. The Erasmus MC is also a pioneer in the area of sustainability and innovation, as are the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the TU Delft. We have close contacts with them. It’s great to work in that type of environment.’
Date: 25 January 2021