seeing green

Innovative Houston plastics company scores $100M 'Green Loan' and prepares to scale

Houston-based Circulus, which just received a $100 million credit facility, focuses on innovative plastics recycling. Photo via circulus.com

Fueled by a new $100 million credit facility, a Houston-based company that specializes in plastics recycling is establishing a nationwide network of recycling plants.

Circulus Holdings secured the $100 million credit facility from Riverstone Credit Partners, which has an office in Houston. This "green" loan is aimed at supporting environmental sustainability.

David Hudson, founder and CEO of Circulus, says in a news release that the credit facility "enables Circulus to rapidly develop a broad network of facilities and further the company's commitment to sustainable manufacturing. We look forward to supporting green-based jobs and preserving our environment for future generations."

Circulus, a portfolio company of Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners, recently opened its first plastics recycling facility. The 110,000-square-foot plant is in Riverbank, California, near Modesto. It employs 45 people. So far, other Circulus plants, each of which will be larger than the California facility, are planned for Alabama, Oklahoma, the Midwest, and the Northeast.

Circulus is building plants that will transform lower-grade plastic into post-consumer resin so that it's suitable for commercial and industrial uses.

Circulus says it is diverting plastic from landfills, incinerators, and oceans and "upcycling" it into products, including plastic bags and plastic wrap. Customers for those products include retailers, resin producers, packaging manufacturers, and makers of consumer packaged goods. The company says greenhouse gas emissions associated with production of its post-consumer resin are about 88 percent below that of virgin resin.

"Through our significant investment in infrastructure and commitment to manufacturing excellence, we are supporting green job creation and reinforcing the nation's global position in sustainable manufacturing," Hudson says in a news release.

Before Circulus, Hudson was an operating partner at Ara Partners.

Founded in 2019, Circulus employs a dozen people in Houston and plans to add workers here as its network of facilities expands. Circulus is set up as a public benefit LLC, a for-profit business that promotes a social benefit for the public.

Ara Partners invests in decarbonization-focused businesses in the manufacturing, chemicals and materials, energy, and food and agriculture sectors. Aside from Circulus, portfolio companies include Houston-based Path Environmental Technology, which provides a decarbonization-oriented industrial services platform for above-ground storage tanks, and Arlington-based Priority Power Management, an energy services provider whose priorities include carbon neutrality and smart energy.

Circulus is breaking into a plastics recycling market whose global size in 2020 was estimated at $39.9 billion, according to Imarc Group, a market research company. The firm projects the market will grow to $56.5 billion by 2026.

"The demand for plastic material has been constantly increasing across several industries like food and beverage, automotive, packaging, and healthcare. The development of these industries can be accredited to rising population, inflating disposable incomes, and continuous product innovations," Imarc Group says. "In this context, higher manufacturing cost of virgin resins has necessitated the use of recycled plastic products, thereby bolstering the growth of the global recycled plastics market."

Verified Market Research estimates the global market for post-consumer recycled plastics at nearly $15.2 billion in 2020 and forecasts it will rise to almost $22.4 billion by 2028.

"The products produced from these plastics close the loop by diverting them from landfills and enabling them to be recycled," Verified Market Research says. "The advantages of employing post-consumer plastics also assist in addressing … microplastics in the environment. Microplastics are originated from plastic waste that has been deposited into the environment."

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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