Singapore maker of biodegradable straws secures US$13m funding

SINGAPORE - Biotech start-up RWDC Industries, which is based in Singapore, on Wednesday (Oct 10) said it has closed a US$13 million Series A2 round co-led by venture capital firms Vickers Venture Partners and WI Harper Group.

Finance firm Ridgevale Enterprises and individual investors also participated in the round. With the funding, RWDC also got two new directors - Vickers chairman and co-founding partner Finian Tan, and WI Harper's chairman Peter Liu.

RWDC develops biodegradable bioplastic that can be used to make cutlery, drinking straws and cup lids, food and beverage packaging, as well as diapers, among other things. It produces medium-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoate (mcl PHA), which are naturally produced by bacterial fermentation of plant-based oils or sugar.

RWDC's PHA is certified to be fully biodegradable in soil, water and marine conditions.

In July, RWDC secured a separate $980,000 through Temasek Foundation Ecosperity's Liveability Challenge. The funds will be used to make fully biodegradable drinking straws made of PHA. The company is working to develop drinking-straw prototypes by the end of the year, and will produce straws in commercial quantities by mid-2019.

The Series A2 funding itself will be used to expand RWDC's PHA production capacity in Georgia, US, to 2,000 tonnes per year. The firm said this expansion would make it among the world's largest PHA producers by early 2019.

In a press statement, RWDC executive chairman Roland Wee said: "We are extremely excited and focused on the expansion of our PHA facility in the US, as this marks our first step towards producing PHA at commercially affordable prices for the global market. We have concrete plans to scale up very quickly from here."

Vickers' Dr Tan said: "Every year, the world produces several hundred metric tonnes of plastic, mostly destined for single-use products that persist in the environment after disposal and create a huge plastic pollution problem that the world is increasingly acutely aware of.

"While it is unrealistic to curb the massive demand for plastic - especially in emerging markets where consumption is on a constant rise - we can still power innovators such as RWDC to develop a commercially attractive solution to a longstanding socio-ecological problem."