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Supporting Sustainable Biopharmaceutical Production With Plant-Based Plastic Labware

Three scientists positioned around a globe and labware, with various icons symbolizing sustainable science.
Credit: iStock
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The reliance on single-use plastics derived from petroleum in scientific research poses a significant environmental challenge. As the global scientific community becomes increasingly aware of its environmental footprint, we’ve seen a greater focus on shifting perceptions of sustainability in the lab to minimize researchers’ dependence on non-renewable resources and inspire them to choose eco-friendly alternatives. Encouraging scientists to rethink the materials and methods they use to carry out the vital work they do will help to foster a culture of sustainability within research institutions and across various industries, including pharma and biotech.

Technology Networks
spoke with Dr. Joel Eichmann, Green Elephant Biotech’s co-founder and managing director to learn more about his motivations for starting the company, the creation of its plant-based plastic labware, and his broader vision for embedding sustainability within the biotech industry.

Laura Lansdowne (LL): What motivated you to co-found Green Elephant Biotech? Could you share any specific experiences that led to the development of your plant-based plastic labware?

Joel Eichmann (JE): While I was doing my PhD, I had a lot to do with adherent cell culture and had to experience firsthand how challenging it is. Also, everyone realizes that laboratories produce a lot of plastic waste. With both issues, I kept thinking: there must be a better way. However, my idea for a novel adherent cell expansion system came to me while outside of the lab, when I visited a water playground with my niece. She was playing with an element consisting of an Archimedes screw that slowly moved the water upwards. That inspired me to develop CellScrew®, a cell culture vessel with a large growth surface that also uses the principle of an Archimedes screw to achieve low-shear gas and media mixing. I definitely wanted to bring this product to market maturity, which was the motivation to found Green Elephant. Since then, however, my vision for Green Elephant has expanded. Our goal is to make biotechnology more sustainable and more efficient at the same time.

LL: Could you talk us through the company’s five guiding principles that drive its daily endeavors?

JE: We developed five key principles sustainability, honesty, optimism, responsibility and appreciation – during a team culture workshop. These principles guide our daily work with colleagues in-house as well as our external customers. Sustainability is a core value in our company. It's about incorporating sustainability criteria into every decision not only in our product development but also when it comes to ordering office supplies, for example. This goes hand in hand with the values of responsibility and honesty. We’re aware that decisions have an impact on our customers and their customers, which we want to anticipate. But it also applies within the team, we feel responsible for our team members and want the team to feel responsible for their colleagues. For us, optimism is the basis for our motivation, we believe we can make a difference. Our values are also closely interrelated.

LL: How can we support and encourage the biopharmaceutical industry to adopt sustainable practices, reduce its environmental impact and enhance overall sustainability throughout its processes and supply chain?

JE: I think for many, sustainability is perceived as an expensive and time-consuming endeavor essentially an additional burden. But there are many good examples of how the implementation of more sustainable processes and products offers an efficiency advantage and reduces costs in the long term. This needs to be internalized. However, among the younger generation, an increasing number of individuals arriving in the biotech sector are thinking sustainably right from the start. In this respect, I am very optimistic that the industry can and will change.

LL: How are you redefining the manufacturing of adherent cells?

JE: When we look at CellScrew, we redefine the manufacturing of adherent cells, because we introduce a completely new geometry for adherent cell culture. But this statement also refers to future products. We are developing a closed, fully automated production platform for adherent cells in which important parameters can be controlled and monitored externally.

LL: Can you tell us more about your 96-well plate made from PLA (polylactic acid) and can you elaborate on the environmental benefits associated with the use of PLA?

JE: The plant-based 96-well plate made of PLA is our latest product. Having already had good experiences with PLA in CellScrew, we realized that we have a huge lever in terms of sustainability if we produce standard disposable material for the laboratory from PLA. That's why we decided to offer a 96-well plate made of PLA as our first product because it is used in large quantities in laboratories daily. The PLA plates have a 50% lower carbon footprint than plates made of polystyrene. This is possible because no additional CO2 is released during incineration, but only the amount that was previously stored in the plants. We were the first to produce a disposable product for the laboratory using injection molding and want to offer more products of this type in the future.

Dr. Joel Eichmann was speaking to Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Managing Editor for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee

Dr. Joel Eichmann’s background is in bioprocess engineering, manufacturing and synthetic biology. Before founding Green Elephant Biotech, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry, focusing on vaccine manufacturing and technology transfer projects. At Green Elephant Biotech, he is responsible for all product-related topics and serves as a liaison between R&D, marketing, sales and business development.