Today we met with Tal Shapira, TripleW’s Co-Founder & CEO
The Climate Journey
Tal has a background in chemistry and biology and had always been passionate about the exact sciences. During his time at Tel Aviv University, he became increasingly interested in the topic of climate change and realized that his expertise in chemistry and biology would be crucial in addressing this issue. After graduating from his masters studies at the Weizmann Institute of Science, he co-founded a medical diagnostics startup and worked there for two years, then Tal returned to the Weizmann Institute, where he gained experience in commercializing technology and identifying innovation working as a licensing director at Yeda R&D the tech transfer company of the Institute. It was during this time that he came up with the idea to make lactic acid out of food waste and founded TripleW. While some initially thought the idea was crazy, Tal believed the benefits outweighed the risks and decided to pursue it.
Tal Shapira and Amir Oranim
TripleW is a company founded in 2015 that aims to solve the environmental and financial problems associated with waste management by developing circular solutions. The company has developed a process that can be used anywhere in the world where food waste is discarded, creating green jobs and reducing the financial burden of ratepayers. TripleW uses food waste as a renewable feedstock for the production of pure lactic acid, a building block of bioplastics. The company's technology also enables the chemical recycling of PLA, further reducing waste. The company envisions a future where thousands of products we use every day can be made to last and reused, converting trash into treasure.
We asked Tal a series of questions.
What’s the story behind TripleW?
I came up with the idea of making lactic acid from food waste. Working at Yeda, I learned what big corporations were looking for in technology and business models to scale up. Teaming up with my co-founder Amir, we had initially thought of using agricultural residues but found it economically unviable. However, seeing a brown bin of source-separated food waste, we decided to use it as a feedstock to produce lactic acid. I developed a protocol and tested it with a subcontractor that provides fermentation services, which yielded positive results. We raised seed funding for the venture after showing the proof of concept to investors and technology experts. We opened our first R&D lab in late 2016 as part of the Israel Innovation Authority Incubator program and began developing the process.
Can you explain your technology to me in simple terms?
It’s similar to the pickling process. We “pickle” food waste to produce lactic acid, which is a highly valuable product. The process involves giving microorganisms the right conditions to ferment the food waste and produce lactic acid. Once the microorganisms are done fermenting, the lactic acid is extracted, purified, and made clean to meet regulatory requirements and market standards. The purified lactic acid is chemically identical to the lactic acid sold in the market made from corn or sugar cane. The facility in Belgium receives various sources of food waste, and the majority of it comes from supermarkets and grocery stores. The food waste is mixed with a certain formulation produced by the facility's partners to produce renewable energy. The fermentation concept is beneficial for both companies as after lactic acid purification all the rest of the waste goes back to the partner for energy production. This “pickling” process can be applied to any anaerobic digestion facility that produces biogas from food waste.
So, what stage are you at now?
TripleW has progressed a lot since late 2016 by investing in developing and scaling up the technology. In 2018, we decided to scale up our process in Belgium, where we won several grants and awards. The scale-up was successful and went from the few grams level to the major ton scale, which was a testament to the process' robustness. In 2020, a large waste management company showed interest in our goal of upgrading existing infrastructure to produce more revenues and profits from the same feedstock they were already collecting. Negotiations started in 2019, and a long-term collaboration agreement was signed in early 2020. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we built a semi-commercial facility in Israel and shipped it to Belgium, where we recruited our first European employees via Zoom. The facility was commissioned in the summer of 2021, and since then, it has been running, producing, and selling lactic acid from food waste. We’re now developing several full-scale projects in Europe and the US with waste management partners who want to deploy the technology in their infrastructure.
Tell me about your recent funding round
We raised $16.5m in our Series B that was Led by Firstime VC. This investment is TripleW’s catalyst for explosive growth. We are uniquely positioned to mitigate the effects of climate change by decarbonizing food and plastic waste on a massive scale. Through the hard work of our dedicated team and our incredible partners, our technology has demonstrated the power of the circular economy to improve the sustainability of existing waste management infrastructures while increasing their revenue and profitability. Now, this funding round will enable TripleW to ramp our proven technology from demo scale to commercial scale by transforming multiple existing large scale waste management installations.
What does TripleW mean?
It stands for 3 wins; Food waste is extremely underutilized and converting it into a useful profitable resource is the first win. Lactic acid is an extremely versatile product that can go into all different industries. It's in almost every product in our in our supermarket aisles and our pharmacy aisles. Making it more profitable is the second win. The third win is for the environment. Our product is 100% carbon made from food waste, without TripleW would have been greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, so that's the third win.
Where will TripleW be in 5 years?
Our business plan is to scale up lactic acid production in order to have a financial and environmental impact. The plan is to build a few full-scale facilities in Europe and the US, and in the long-term transition into a licensing model to scale up globally where food waste is centralized. We’re tapping into the natural mechanisms of processing food waste and therefore can make it economical and impactful without necessitating new infrastructure investments. Although there are technology risks associated with being the pioneers of this type of facility, we’ve mitigated these risks through years of R&D and will continue to learn from setting up full-scale facilities with partners. Once we have two working full-scale facilities, expanding the technology rapidly will no longer be an issue.
What are the main difficulties you are facing?
Mostly conveying the messages regarding the benefits of green materials, and the struggle of scaling up an industrial process for startups. I believe that teaming up with waste management companies that are transitioning to becoming waste to product companies can alleviate the pain of raising capital to build infrastructure.
What’s missing in the Israeli climate tech ecosystem?
There is a lack of expertise in climate tech in Israel, especially when it comes to waste management. The government often relies on different experts with varying agendas, making it difficult to establish a clear agenda for waste management. When raising capital, only a few people are advising funds, highlighting the need for more experts to assess ventures based on their technological feasibility. Some companies might overpromise in terms of solving the waste problem, and there is a need for experts who can identify good technology and assess its chances of scaling.
What makes your team a super team?
Our team is a super team because we have a high retention rate for employees who are extremely committed to their cause and mission. We recruited from the best universities in Israel, including graduates from the Weitzman Institute, Technion, and Tel Aviv University. In Europe, we have experienced industry experts with extensive knowledge of bioprocessing and biotechnology. We’ve always developed our technology with industry in mind and we implement this in our everyday work.
The Super Team
If you had one tip to give to other climate tech entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Focus on making your company capital efficient and finding a model for scaling up your technology that works with investors. You should have a technology that is scalable and well-protected and seek help in building a model for financing your venture especially if it entails building infrastructure. Keep in mind that scaling up climate tech is a financial challenge, especially for hardware.