It’s technology, not sorcery

Sometimes, it’s easy to get the impression that in the economy called sustainable, circular, “clean”, everything happens by magic. While complex processes unfold behind the scenes, giving the feeling that any material can transform into another, simply by adding “shine” and “glamour” to the new one. But as the old catchphrase says: “it’s not sorcery, it’s technology”.

If 🎶 somos o que podemos ser, sonhos que podemos ter (E teremos!) (we are what we can be, dreams that we can have (And we will!)) 🎶, as the Gaucho band Engenheiros do Hawaii sang in verse and prose, because, after all, there is a clear feeling that this history of “being sustainable is not enough”? Why?

“The market was not (and still is not) exactly mature for sustainability, to understand the topic as we believe”, says Alexandre Figueiró, co-founder and CEO of Lamiecco.

Founded almost two decades ago, the company from Rio Grande do Sul not only recycles polyethylene terephthalate (favorite name: PET), but also transforms it into ecological coatings, which can be used by the furniture industry and civil construction. This is Lamiecco.

Lamiecco unit installed in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Photo: Disclosure.

To begin with, the recycling process is complex. Without exaggeration, laborious. Quite. Because you need to purchase the bottles, separate them, wash them, grind themand transform them into a flake – a PET flake, similar in shape to cornflakes. No, it is not edible.

Then, it is necessary to go through drying and crystallization steps, in addition to receiving additives. Finally, is it over? Nope. The moment has come when it turns into a mass, which, when homogenized and compacted, can become a plate. Now it’s over, right? No way!

No, because this plate still lacks the shine and glamour, which will come after various types of finishing. And yes, now you can pop the champagne, because after about 11 steps, the plate is ready, super ready. And it can be transformed into a coating used on doors, walls, furniture, moulding, baseboards, and frames.

If you’re curious about the relationship between material use and productivity, so take a look. For every square meter produced, 30 PET bottles are recycled – the company’s monthly production is around 1 million square meters, for a total of 30 million bottles. Sorcery? As you can see, far from it. It’s technology, really!

“Instead of using virgin resin, we use a resin that will float in the river. The other advantage is that our coating is not only made with recycled material, but it is also recyclable and non-toxic, unlike PVC, which, when recycled, releases hydrochloric acid”, says Alexandre Figueiró, co-founder and CEO of Lamiecco.

Plastic Island offshore. Increasingly, this is becoming a reality across the oceans.

The excellent arguments, however, were not enough for the company to advance by itself in its early years. Impressive, no, assures Figueiró, who started to adopt the speech of complying with technical requirements as a priority, using the recycling of PET bottles as the “icing on the cake”.

“No company can sustain a commercial strategy based on sustainability. The product has to be of excellent quality, meeting requirements and having technical responsibility”, says the Lamiecco’s officer, which little by little was gaining ground in the market.

The next step, inclusive, is to start supplying coatings for trailers, motorhomes, buses, and other transport vehicles, not only in Brazil but also in Latin America. “And we want to soon reach the Iberian and North American markets”, highlights Figueiró.

Ok, ok, unfortunately, there are people who don’t even want to know about the reduced impact on nature if the cost isn’t lower – even though they know that one day or another, the tab will come for everyone. (Knock knock: it is already knocking on the door). Yes, Lamiecco has a point.

After all, it’s all there: torrential rains, massive landslides, endless drought, soil becoming infertile, scorching sun, freezing cold, sequential deforestation, in short, there’s no shortage of catastrophe in this cartel. It’s not possible for Earthlings to just turn away and pretend that “nothing happened.”

Faced with this list of conditions, pre-conditions, edges and tasks, there were those who turned this lemon into lemonade. Tasty, I would say. No sugar, but with ice, please. Like Akmey.

Invested by KPTL back in 2015, Akmey was founded almost two decades ago in Santa Catarina to embrace an inglorious struggle: to reduce the far from small use of water and chemical products by manufacturers of that blouse or t-shirt that you fell in love with, in the store window. Easy, right? Not even a little!

Akmey unit installed in the state of Santa Catarina. Photo: Disclosure.

That’s right… To get that basic black cotton T-shirt into the shape that everyone in the company likes, you need to apply a bunch of chemicals to the fabric. It’s caustic soda, acetic acidsequestrantlubricantdetergent… Is it over? Not yet. There’s still water – lots of water – to wash all of this, step by step.

Did it end? Nope. There is also drying. An electricity bill-friendly process, which is carried out with care and elegance at temperatures around 100 degrees Celsius. A ton of heat and a ton of megawatts/hour, and of course, a ton of reais.

It is in this expensive, laborious, complicated, and tricky game that Akmey wears the clean and soft number 10 shirt. And it plays well. Because one of its main products has in the enzymatic compounds the perfect tactic when it comes to preparing the fabric, pushing aside the use of chemicals – some still insist on articulating good moves, it must be said -, placing a good amount of water on the bench, so necessary for washing cotton.

Ah, but what about energy? Is it in the locker room? No! It plays but acts in a more measured way. Over there in the marking, since chemical reactions and washing with water require a lower temperature.

Sorcery? Far from it! Let’s remember that wonderful chemistry class, when the high school teacher arrived all friendly and said, “today, you’re going to love this content”. Amidst cynical looks, sideways smiles, winks, and soft laughter at the back of the class, in addition to profuse murmurs, the Chemistry teacher began his lesson, pulling out the word “enzymes” from his pocket.

Enzymes, he said, “are compounds that accelerate a reaction”. And everyone looked at each other and a huge question mark emerged from their minds in formation. But without losing his class, the master continued: “our digestive system, for example, has a series of enzymes that break down proteins, facilitating their absorption by the body (and accelerating their effects here and there). And a unison, “ah, that’s it” appeared strong like the energy that is present in the best phase of life, adolescence.

Memories aside, it’s time for the trip to the time tunnel to end and explain that Akmey’s enzymes have a goal: to act to make the clothing processing process more economic.

How? By ruthlessly reducing the cost of water, time spent on the process itself, energy, and the use of chemicals.

But come on… How much? In wonderful, at least 25%

What a s-p-e-c-t-a-c-l-e! It’s magic, it can only be… No! It’s science, technology, everything.

And there is more. Another Akmey solution is Sustendye. “What?”

Relax. Sustendye is a nano encapsulated dye that also increases the efficiency of the garment dyeing process. It’s a good dye, calm down.

Because it makes the process use fewer chemicals. And with less chemicals, the work is done in less time and requires less water.

So, is Akmey completely satisfied? Can you afford to invest time in fancy formulas in the best witchcraft style? The answer is no.

Aragão explains that the company is relentless in terms of continuous technological development. In May 2024, there was even a new patent (that of Sustendye) being approved for the company here in Brazil, you see. And look, this patent was filed not long ago, lol, in 2018. Well then.

In other words, my friend, technology is not something that can be built overnight. It definitely isn’t.

It’s no surprise that Lamiecco and Akmey’s incredible ideas have been tested in the market for a long time, with hard work, closeness to customers and readjustment of models whenever necessary.

It’s like the old saying goes: No creo en las brujas, pero que las hay, las hay (I don’t believe in witches, but there is no question they exist.). Using an iPhone, of course, because at the end of the day, no one gives up good technology. Not even the brujas!

“We are what we repeatedly do”


3 questions for…

Aline Soterroni

Environmental scientist, and Research Associate at the University of Oxford, involved in the Nature-Based Solutions and Oxford Net Zero Initiatives.

1) The vast majority of countries have already announced commitments and targets to reduce and eliminate carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. As each country has an economic structure, each place has a different challenge. With that in mind, what is this challenge like for Brazil – and in which areas can we make faster progress?

Almost ¾ of Brazilian emissions are related to food production or the land use change and agriculture sectors. Deforestation or conversion of native vegetation is still the main source of national emissions. Therefore, the protection of native vegetation (or the end of deforestation) is what can bring about the fastest progress towards reducing emissions. But just the end of deforestation does not guarantee compliance with Brazil’s net zero target. The country needs to advance agendas for (i) large-scale restoration of ecosystems, (ii) increased efficiency in the energy sector, (iii) increased production of renewable energy, (iv) more sustainable agricultural practices and (v) reduced burning fossil fuels. Integrated scenario modeling science shows that almost 80% of Brazil’s emissions reduction potential towards net zero can be achieved with nature-based solutions, especially by ending deforestation and large-scale restoration of native vegetation. And this is a unique comparative advantage for Brazil because in addition to reducing emissions, nature-based solutions offer multiple benefits for people such as adaptation and increasing the resilience of ecosystems and cities to the impacts of climate change (such as extreme weather events). Furthermore, the cost of nature-based solutions is currently a fraction of the cost of negative emissions technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

2) There are advances that can be made in changing attitudes and awareness, such as reducing deforestation. Others, however, must come from technological changes and nature-based solutions. What is the role of technology and innovation industries in this regard?

Without a doubt, actions to combat deforestation, both illegal and legal, should be a priority. Science has already shown that Brazil does not need to deforest any hectare of land to continue producing food in the future, especially because Brazilian agriculture is highly dependent on the benefits that ecosystems provide, such as regulating the climate and rainfall, pollination, nutrient cycling, among others. Although political will is fundamental to combat deforestation, technology and innovation companies could invest in solutions to advance the traceability of supply chains for commodities such as beef, soy, and wood. These technologies would help produce food sustainably, increase productivity in the field, reduce waste, and help consumers make more conscious choices.

3) In addition to being a researcher at Oxford, you also currently work with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation thinking about policies and inputs for the country in this sector. In what ways can the State act to not only set an example, but create incentives for people and companies in this net zero commitment?

Currently, I participate in the development of the National Simulator of Sectoral Policies and Emissions (SINAPSE MCTI) which projects emissions from different public policy scenarios. This simulator has the potential to support decision-making regarding the formulation of priority policies to reduce emissions, including the implementation of the NDC. It is the government’s role to define sectoral plans, implement priority actions and monitor compliance with national policies towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change. But this requires political will, long-term strategic planning, dialogue with science, civil society and the private sector, international cooperation, and alignment within the government itself. Investments in the exploration of fossil fuels and in activities that degrade ecosystems go against the fight against climate change.