Transfoam: the Key to Sustainable Consumerism

Transfoam is making a sustainable world more accessible for the average consumer. Founders Alec Brewer, Simonne Guenette, and Kobe Rogers are University of Virginia students studying biomedical engineering, biology, and biochemistry respectively. Their passion around entrepreneurship, sustainability, and scientific research drive Transfoam.

“We see biodegradable plastics, bioplastics, and sustainable materials as a necessity in our future.” – Alec Brewer

Transfoam has created an innovative approach to upcycling. Their process converts waste sitting in landfills into energy. More specifically, they are able to produce polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB, also known as biodegradable plastics) out of styrene (Styrofoam).  The PHBs can be manufactured into a variety of single-use plastic products such as bags, utensils, and gas canisters. 

Styrene is unrecyclable, so it collects in and congests landfills. Half of the materials sitting in landfills were only used once. With Transfoam’s method, styrene is pre-processed and the waste plastic is broken down by a safe, genetically modified strand of E. coli resulting in a PHB.

The founders teamed up to launch Transfoam after months of researching and competing in the international iGEM competition. Alec, Simonne, and Kobe were all in a synthetic biology class together in the spring of 2019. In the class, students collaborated to come up with a synthetic biological solution to a modern day problem. At the end of the semester, the class collectively selected the best idea (Transfoam) to present in the fall at the iGEM competition. 

Throughout the preparations and competition, Alec, Simonne, and Kobe assumed an official or unofficial leadership role amongst the class team. After additionally pursuing UVA’s eCup and applying for the VentureLab Incubator, the three determined they wanted to pursue the business. Alec headed the entrepreneurial efforts; he always intended to follow an entrepreneurial endeavor after college. On the other hand, Simonne and Kobe never expected to land in the entrepreneurial space. They now, however, realize how much they enjoy having full autonomy over their research and seeking ways to optimize their venture's impact.

Some products that claim to be compostable and biodegradable still require further processing that many communities can’t afford. Transfoam is combatting this economic obstacle by making it possible for a consumer product to be truly biodegradable. The PHBs they generate naturally degrade in the environment in as little as 2 to 4 weeks and will most likely degrade on the way to the landfill.

Although COVID-19 has kicked the founders out of their lab space for the time being, the team has been hard at work continuing their research efforts in order to fully realize the impact Transfoam can have.  

Transfoam is providing a greener and more affordable standard. The founders are excited about what the future holds. They are ready to set a new normal where waste is no longer accumulating in masses and sustainable practices are more readily integrated across all consumer industries.

Their venture will more easily allow consumers to partake in sustainable practices. In the future, Transfoam wants to be able to break down even more waste plastics to make further strides towards a sustainable world.

Learn more about Transfoam

Meet the founders: Alec Brewer (top right), Simonne Guenette (top left), and Kobe Rogers (bottom)