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Julia Bialetska, cofounder and CEO of S.Lab. SUR
Ecological packaging factory opens in Guadalhorce valley
Business

Ecological packaging factory opens in Guadalhorce valley

Two Ukrainian entrepreneurs are behind S.Lab which has patented a new material made from mushrooms and hemp to replace plastics

Nuria Triguero

Malaga

Friday, 21 June 2024, 12:29

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A company by the name of S.Lab, created by two Ukrainian refugees, has launched its first fully automated production line of ecological 'plastic' made from mushrooms and hemp in the town of Coín.

This is a first step in the company's mission to revolutionise the packaging industry with a natural substitute for polystyrene that is durable, reliable, fully biodegradable and waste-free. With this industrial innovation, they can produce 50,000 units of packaging per month. While that is still not enough for the volumes demanded by companies such as Samsung or L'Oreal, they intend to double the capacity again in a few months. Additionally, S.Lab is planning to replicate their fixed production line in 'mini-factories' that will be mounted in shipping containers and can be located on customers' own premises to save costs and reduce emissions.

The company was founded in 2021 in Kyiv, the city where its co-founders, Julia Bialetska and Eugene Tomilin, lived. The pair are not only business partners but are also married. When Russia invaded their country, they were forced to abandon the project of setting up a factory in Kyiv and flee for the safety of their children. After a few months of moving around Europe, they found refuge in Spain - not only for their family but also for their business. For the past year, they have been at the CADE Andalusian centre for business in Coín, where the regional government has provided them with three years of free accommodation. Today, they have 20 employees.

The company wants to roll out 'mini-factories' that will be located on customers' own premises

With the new automated production process, S.Lab has managed to minimise the need for continuous human intervention in operations. "The processes involved in packaging production are efficiently managed by patented technologies including robotic arms, forming robots, computer vision and an extensive network of sensors and indicators. This state-of-the-art automation ensures accuracy, consistency and efficiency throughout the manufacturing process, while reducing costs and minimising human error," said Bialetska, who is S.Lab's CEO.

S.Lab has developed its own production technology specifically designed for plant-based packaging. "Our production line can operate continuously, which increases productivity and throughput compared to manual production methods, and it is designed to optimise the use of resources, including raw materials, energy and water. Automation provides greater control over the production process, allowing real-time monitoring and analysis to optimise production efficiency and quality," added Tomilin, the CTO. The new production line is also "highly adaptable and scalable, allowing production capacity to be adjusted to meet growing demand". This scalability ensures adaptation to market fluctuations and the ability to offer packaging solutions to a variety of customers, from local companies to multinationals.

S.Lab's magic formula comes from two components: mycelium (a structure formed by fungi with a texture similar to branched threads) and hemp (or more specifically, the hemp stalk, which is discarded when harvested). When mixed together, the result is a 100% natural, highly resistant and reliable material, capable of competing with polystyrene in terms of durability, impermeability and thermal insulation, with one advantage: it is completely biodegradable. Once used, it can be thrown away with the rest of the rubbish and decomposes completely in just 30 days. In fact, it even acts as a fertiliser in soil.

Fungi

S.Lab 'grows' the fungi in its own laboratory and combines them with waste hemp (or other crops such as corn or wheat) that it acquires in different parts of Andalucía, including Coín. The resulting material is then moulded into the desired shape.

The company's patented material has applications in a variety of sectors: cosmetic cushioning, electronics packaging, decorative and fashion packaging, thermo-insulating food boxes, pharmaceuticals and many more. The founders of S.Lab believe that this is the perfect time for their project, given the growing concern in the consumer goods industry to eradicate plastic and achieve more sustainable packaging, in line with the growing social awareness of climate change.

"Spain offers a welcoming environment and abundant agricultural waste resources, making it an ideal location for our production plant," said Bialetska. "By sourcing local materials and investing in innovative technologies, we not only reduce our environmental impact, but also contribute to the local economy and support farmers in the region."

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