Czech Katerina is developing sustainable alternatives to one of the world’s biggest environmental sinners: 'It feels like a dream'

25-year-old Katerina Hanzalová from Prague works as a production and quality assistant in the East Jutland start-up Cellugy, which uses biofabrication to turn sugar-based feedstocks into a biodegradable and recyclable material for the packaging industry.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Several hundred litres of caramel-coloured liquid are being fermented in Cellugy’s production room in an industrial area in Aarhus to produce a nanosize material which structure resembles the strands of spaghetti.

In here, a sustainable and promising alternative to one of the world’s greatest environmental culprits is starting to take shape.

100 per cent biodegradable

Katerina Hanzalová gives a tour around the production facilities where the process is taking place. This will soon turn into 100 per cent bio-based gelatinous material to be used as biodegradable and recyclable replacement of plastic packaging.

‘This batch is for our collaborators who are interested in testing our material for their packaging,’ says Katerina.

She is Cellugy’s production and quality assistant and did her bachelor’s degree at Business Academy Aarhus where she studied on our Chemical and Biotechnical Technology and Food Technology programme.

She was offered the job while she was still a student during her internship in Cellugy.

‘I’m very grateful that I’ve got a job here. It feels like a dream,’ says Katerina, who hails from the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague.

The first full-time employee

Katerina is the first full-time employee in Cellugy, which was established in Aarhus in 2018 and has won a host of international awards for their patent-pending technology. Including runner-up in the National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge. In 2018, Cellugy was selected as one of Europe’s 24 best ‘High Grow Potential’ technology companies.

Wrapping from bananas and soap

Katerina shows us a meeting room with strategy papers on the wall and a stack of brochures on the bookcase.

‘Too much plastic waste ends up in an incinerator or in the world’s oceans. We want to change that by creating a competitive alternative to fossil-based plastic packaging for industries like food.’

Katerina enthusiastically explains how their invention can be used for wrapping everything from soap and liver pâté containers to bananas, and as a coating in ‘to-go’ disposable cups, as it can tolerate very high heat levels.

‘We are still in the development and testing phase, but we are working hard towards our goal to get EcoFLEXY on the market. Its environmental and performance characteristics, makes this material a game changer for the packaging industry.’

Product development and supplier search

Katerina’s assignments in Cellugy are very diverse. Among other things, she has contributed with a lot of knowledge on how different sugar sources can be used in production during her bachelor’s project. She has also carried out market research.

Currently, she is in the process of finding providers of equipment for future scale-up activities and takes care of the day-to-day production at Karupvej.

‘As an employee at a start-up, you get to do many different things and I think that’s exciting.’

Staying in Aarhus

Katerina has lived in Aarhus for five years. And she is staying!

‘I appreciate all the opportunities that Denmark has given me. That's why I want to pay it back by staying and working and paying my taxes.’