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The CLIC® Chronicles: Meet Néolithe: the start-up putting an end to landfill

The CLIC® Chronicles: Meet Néolithe: the start-up putting an end to landfill
Nicolas Cruaud - CEO and co-founder, Néolithe

Nicolas Cruaud

CEO and co-founder, Néolithe

Let's talk about Néolithe. What does it stand for and what problem are you trying to solve?

Néolithe is a young industrial start-up based in the Loire region. We have developed a new process for treating non-recyclable waste – ‘fossilisation’– as an environmentally sustainable and economically viable alternative to landfill.

 

Where did the idea for Néolithe come from?

The idea came from my father, our Néolithe co-founder and stonemason, who drew a parallel between 'dinosaur waste', which was fossilised over time, and human waste. He wondered whether it would be possible to develop a kind of accelerated fossilisation process for industrial waste in order to create a new mineral material.

 

What is your innovation and how was it developed?

Néolithe turns waste into stone! Based on my father's idea, we created the ‘fossiliser’, a small plant that turns non-recyclable waste into mineral aggregates (stones) without heat. These aggregates can then be reused in the high-performance concrete (HPC) industry, notably in concrete blocks and sub-layers of roads.

We set up the company in 2019 and today there are 60 of us – mostly engineers, technicians and chemists who are working to improve and industrialise the process. Today, our first demo fossiliser can process 20 tonnes of waste per day.

Today, our first demo fossiliser can process 20 tonnes of waste per day

In what way is this innovation sustainable and talk to us about its impact?

The Néolithe fossilisation process was conceived with an environmental objective in mind. In qualitative terms, we avoid landfill, which is totally unsustainable, and incineration, which generates high CO2 emissions. From a quantitative perspective, fossilising one tonne of waste makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions by 120 kg compared with landfill and to capture an additional 320 kg.

The fossilisation process is inherently carbon negative: its carbon footprint is more than offset by the carbon capture it generates. By fossilising all of France's non-recyclable waste, we could reduce the country's CO2 emissions by some 5% across all industries. That's huge!

Can you describe the stages of the “fossilisation” process?

Broadly speaking, the fossilisation process has three stages: we micronize the waste into a fine powder, and then add to mineral binders we have developed to cause a reaction. Finally, once the reaction is complete, we shape the material under pressure to form aggregates. The entire process is heat-free.

 

Can you use any sort of waste? What kind of results are achieved?

We are currently able to treat what is known as CIW (common industrial waste), which consists of a mix of plastics, wood, soiled cardboard, textiles, etc. The aim of our ongoing R&D is to be able to process household waste, i.e. the non-recyclable rubbish generated by individuals.

 

What happens to the aggregates afterwards? Who do they belong to?

Anthropocite aggregates, as we call them, can be used in place of natural aggregates in concrete blocks and road sub-layers. These aggregates have been certified for use in specific types of concrete, as a first step, and other approvals are in the pipeline. Anthropocite aggregates are themselves recyclable in the same way as natural aggregates. The sorting centre that owns the fossiliser also owns the aggregates. Thus the sorting centre sells them on, with our help, to players in the high-performance concrete industry.

 

What is your market? What are the economic and sustainable benefits for your clients?

Initially, we are selling our fossilisers to industrial waste sorting companies. These companies use sorting centres that generate large volumes of non-recyclable waste at the end of the chain. The fossiliser can be directly plugged in to the sorting centre to treat the waste on site. This gives clients a triple advantage:

Firstly, from an environmental perspective, they stand out from their competitors who bury or incinerate their non-recyclable waste.

Secondly, they can process their non-recyclable waste independently, rather than relying on landfill site operators whose capacities are diminishing substantially due to regulatory constraints.

And thirdly, fossilisation costs the same or less than traditional waste treatment solutions, the price of which is rising significantly each year due to regulatory restrictions.

Turning refuse into stone solves the problem of waste, while at the same time generating a useful new raw material and addresses the CO2 issue

See also: Klimato, the Swedish start-up labelling food to tackle emissions

 

What are the advantages of converting waste into stone rather than something else?

Today, the best solution we have for this type of mixed waste is to burn it to generate energy. The problem is that the energy obtained is highly carbon intensive, so this solves the issue of waste but not of CO2 emissions. Turning refuse into stone solves this problem, as it generates a useful new raw material and addresses the CO2 issue. Right now, this is the best we can do!

 

Why is it better to purchase Néolithe aggregates rather than other types?

Anthropocite aggregates are recycled aggregates that have no negative impact on fossil resources in an increasingly restrictive environment for establishing new quarries. In addition, these aggregates are naturally carbon negative. This means that rather than having a carbon footprint of 5 kg CO2/t like other aggregates, their carbon footprint is -300 kg CO2/t, thanks to the carbon capture made possible by fossilisation. This enables construction firms to decarbonise their construction projects when they use these aggregates.

 

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Who are your competitors in France? And internationally?

We have yet to identify a comparable technology anywhere. We see competition from waste incineration technologies, which are now mature technologies replacing landfill.

See also: How our future headquarters will shape the local economy

 

Néolithe is actually a family start-up. It’s a modern take on a family business. How does it work?

At Néolithe, I work with my father, who invented the process, and my mother. Soon my brother will join the firm. At first, it wasn't entirely clear how our third partner, Clément, would fit in, but he quickly found his feet. It's a bit like the new version of a family business, because my father is not the founder of the company and so he didn't pass it on to me in the traditional way. In terms of the chain of command, I am theoretically his boss, which is certainly a change from the usual!

In five years, Néolithe's international growth will be in full swing and fossilisation will be recognised as the new go-to technology for non-recyclable waste treatment

What will Néolithe look like in five years? What are your goals and future markets?

In five years, Néolithe's international growth will be in full swing (especially in Europe) and fossilisation will be recognised as the new go-to technology for non-recyclable waste treatment.

 

In your personal life, what do you do to manage your waste better?

I don't consider myself a model citizen when it comes to my own rubbish. I still do a lot of my shopping in traditional supermarkets, for example, whereas buying in bulk can generate less waste. But I am careful about sorting rubbish. I think a good way to be aware of the impact of our waste is to imagine that the rubbish we put into the non-recyclable bin will either be buried in our garden or burnt in our fireplace, since this represents what we do today.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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