Christopher Thomas has always had a passion for nature and solving environmental problems through science, going back to his hometown in Bridgeport, NY. During his undergraduate program at SUNY ESF, he studied bioprocess engineering then went to China to conduct research in Beijing where he explored and studied the fundamental science of wood and plants for biofuel.
In discussing his passion bioplastics with his roommate, Dr. Ryan Scheel, they were inspired to combine their knowledge and skill sets in a new method to create advanced biodegradable plastics from waste materials. Building on his studies overseas as well as his diverse experience and interests, Christopher decided to pursue a new profound idea through PhD research. He worked countless hours with his PhD advisors Dr. ‘s Bandaru Ramarao and Deepak Kumar to secure and patent a novel approach to biodegradable plastic technology.
His company, Envision Biopolymers LLC, combines the advantage of advanced physical properties with upcycling of abundant agro-waste material, which makes a more compelling business case based on bioplastic technologies.
With such great success, he reached out to the CSMM, Center for Sustainable Materials Management, funded by the NYS DEC. He was offered a position to work with the CSMM Executive Director Kathryn Walker to further develop and commercialize this technology through a two-year project.
Christopher’s invention is of great interest to industries that manufacture packaging. In recent studies, PFAS, Per-polyfluoroalkyl Substances, found in many packaging and consumer goods products, were deemed toxic and harmful. Thus, many states have begun banning the use of PFAS. Consequently, businesses in the food-packaging sector need a new plastic to replace PFAS and Christopher has the ideal product for them.
He notes that “People haven’t cared as much about the environment up until recently. Gen Z and Millennials want companies that are eco-friendly and are pressuring the government to enforce safe material. Sustainability is imperative for business.”
The bioplastic generated by Christopher and his team make it a great candidate to meet these new market demands for sustainable and safe products. His product is derived from natural waste and formulates it into a marine biodegradable, home-compostable, and highly functional product.
Christopher has developed a wonderful support system and team that have made these developments possible. In particular, the diligent and enthusiastic research of ESF alum Michael Glinski and ESF PhD student Daniel Fougnier have been critical to many of the recent technology milestones.
Traction for his product has flourished through his team’s acceptance into the NSF I-Corps Teams program, and relationship with the Center for Sustainable Materials Management. Most recently, Christopher has been corresponding with their first potential beachhead customer who has expressed a great interest and need for their product.
Next steps include scaling the process from the laboratory to industry in collaboration with corporate partners. Additionally, seeking for a venture capitalist to fund scale-up developments has been an ambition that would hopefully permit him to share the success of this business with the ESF and Syracuse Community.
Christopher has a year and a half to continue working for the CSMM and if successful, he plans to continue working toward his dream, saving the environment, and collaborating to form a network of like-minded folks to make it a reality. He states, “This is my passion, and I am so fortunate to be where I am.”
Story by Sydney Grosso for the LaunchPad; photo by the LaunchPad