The three founders of Sustonable, Laurens Van Graafeiland, Aad van Helden und Erik Schoneveld, found a way to tackle important issues of the building industry: first of all, they are giving used PET bottles a new purpose by using them as a natural binder in their stone material. Secondly, they help to reduce overcut since Sustonable can be produced with much less waste than conventional building materials. The Netherland-based start-up has now made it to the finals of the Green Alley Award 2017, a European business competition for entrepreneurs in the circular economy.
We’ve asked Erik and Laurens a few questions about their innovative technology and the background of their idea
Please tell us a little bit more about your idea. How did your technology to produce a new kind of composite stone arise?
Our colleague Aad van Helden and I (Erik Schoneveld) have developed the idea of composite stone bond made of recycled PET bottles 15 years ago when we were both working at the R&D Centre of an oil and gas company in Amsterdam. I have been working in this company on the technical development for three years. During that time, I initially started to work on the technical development of Sustonable. After I left the company to join a commercial composite stone manufacturer in Spain, Aad continued this work. Due to more pressing projects at the other company, I had to abandon the project for some time. Later, I wanted to continue the project and left the Spanish company. I asked Aad and Laurens to join the Sustonable project in a new company. That is how we started three years ago.
Laurens, why – after years of working at a consulting firm and founding your own strategy and market intelligence consulting firm – did you decide to start again from scratch with Sustonable?
Erik and I have known each other for 25 years now. We have been doing race-rowing together for three years during our studies and were working very well together, with the usual ups and downs. When he came to me with the idea of starting Sustonable, I thought it would be great to work together with him and Aad on this. Also, I like a challenge. I have been working in the professional services industry for 17 years but there I didn’t produce anything. It was mainly about figures, reports and presentations.
What we produce now is a thing one can actually touch and feel. It’s a real product! Another challenge is the setting up of a new plant, this is not something a lot of other start-ups do.
How come your production costs are much lower than those of your current competitors?
First of all we use a much cheaper binding material than our competitors. They use a virgin resin produced from oil, whereas we use recycled PET bottles. Apart from that, our Sustonable material can be produced much thinner and with less process waste, due to a much more efficient continuous production process.
Sustonable, among other possible applications, can be used as kitchen countertop. How can you guarantee the material meets the hygienic demands? After all it contains recycled compounds.
We use recycled PET, but it is shredded, sorted and washed by our supplier company. This recycled PET material is therefore of a very high standard, close to virgin PET. Apart from that, it will be reprocessed later on at almost 300 degrees Celsius, which assures that all organic contaminations will be neutralized. We do not use any chemical reactions during the production process, which makes it unnecessary to use chemicals such as chemical catalysts or solvents.
Don’t we have to fear that the recycled PET bottles have a certain smell?
Thanks to the washing steps explained before there will be no smell at all. Due to the production of Sustonable not depending on a chemical reaction, there will be no residual solvents in the composite stone, which many of our competitors who use solvents cannot guarantee.
What are the determining benefits of Sustonable compared to conventional material such as granite, ceramic or composite stone?
First of all: Sustonable is much thinner and lighter than for example granite or conventional composite stone. These materials are normally installed in kitchen tops that are 2 or 3 centimeters thick, which makes a standard kitchen top of 63 x 220 centimeters weigh over 70 kilograms. The same kitchen top made out of 6 millimeters thin Sustonable will weigh only 20-25 kilograms which makes it much easier and cheaper to install.
Our material is stronger than conventional material. Ceramic material comes in 6 millimeters plates, but it is very fragile due to its low impact resistance. Once installed as a kitchen top, it does not resist impact from falling objects, so it has to be reinforced with a steel frame below the ceramic material which makes installation very expensive.
Sustonable has an extremely good impact resistance, which makes it possible to be transported and installed in 6 millimeters slabs as kitchen tops or wall panels.
We have a much more efficient process and therefore offer Sustonable at a lower price. On top of that our material is 100 percent recyclable.
More information you will find here
Thank you Erik and Laurens for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.