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Copenhagen Start-up wants to detox your clothes, colour by colour

Nethaji Gallage CEO Octarine

That pretty, pink shirt of yours is harmful to the planet. So is the blue, green and purple ones in your closet. Now the Copenhagen Science City-based biotech start-up Octarine Bio is about to launch a palette of bio-based and sustainable dyes in these hard-to-match hues. By Jes Andersen.

An easy-to-improve process

The current process to dye your clothes is bad for the climate as it eats up a fourth of the energy used to make a garment. It can be bad for the health of workers as some dyes contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals. It’s bad for the environment as some dye houses release up to 200 litres of untreated sewage, every time they colour a kilo of cloth. The founder of biotech start-up Octarine Bio knew her company could do better.

With our technology, we could have chosen to produce health supplements, skin care ingredients and many other novel products. We started to investigate garment dyes because we knew we could make a difference. Even so, we were surprised at just how much of a difference our dyes could make to climate, health, and environment”: Nethaji Gallage, CEO and Co-founder, Octarine Bio.

Deep tech production of low tech product

Gallage launched Octarine based on her research insights from a position at University of Copenhagen. Here she specialized in bioengineering cells. From research to commercialisation. Her company engineers yeast cells to generate the valuable colours, and then breeds the yeast in fermentation tanks to multiply their production.

Our process to manufacture colours are deep tech while our products, the dyes, can be seamlessly integrated into existing dye house infrastructure as a drop-in solution. Put simply, the dye houses can use the same machines as today.”: Nethaji Gallage, CEO and Co-founder, Octarine Bio.

Useful to start up near university

During the research and development phase the proximity to research institutions in Copenhagen Science City has been very useful to Octarine. University of Copenhagen gave them access to analytical infrastructure beyond the reach of a small start-up. The company also hires its student as interns and later its graduates as staff. This is gratifying to hear in the innovation district headquarters.

We like to say that our area is one of the most walkable innovation districts in the world. Every time we see a local deep tech start-up collaborating with researchers within walking distance in our district, it feels like a validation of this claim”: Kristoffer Klebak, Head of Secretariat, Copenhagen Science City.

Lighting the rocket boosters

Despite being funded primarily by international venture capital, Octarine is located in the Copenhagen Science City-based life science office hotel Lersø Park Alle 44. Here, the company has built its own GMO labs and are planning to build a fermentation facility when they begin to scale production.

We still see ourselves as an early-stage start-up, but we are beyond proof of concept and proof of business. This summer we are scaling-up our dye production and we are well on our way to our first commercial collection”: Nethaji Gallage, CEO and Co-founder, Octarine Bio.

90 to 99 percent less harmful

With their novel dyes, Octarine promises performance to compete with synthetical dyes but with 90 to 99 percent lower energy usage, CO2 emissions, and human and ecological toxicity when dye houses use their product. The company is currently collaborating to launch limited but colourful collections with several undisclosed American and European fashion houses.

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