What exactly is PHA, Alessandro?

Alessandro Sgotto (48) head of R&D for the writing instruments division  at Pagani Pens. He also coordinates the company’s innovation team. So there is hardly anyone who would be more competent to speak with when it comes to the new True Biotic material. The interview was conducted by Laura Bazzali, Product Manager Writing Instruments.

Laura Bazzali: Alessandro, what is so revolutionary about the new QS40 True Biotic?

Alessandro Sgotto: (Laughs) Revolution is a big word! For me, the concept of True Biotic casings is more a kind of back to the future. And this view back is perhaps revolutionary, but most certainly evolutionary!

What do you mean?

Today, innovation can only go hand in hand with nature, not against it. We have to learn to better understand and use natural processes and materials, things that nature has perfected over millions of years. My team and I are working on putting this idea into practice with a great deal of passion – and the new QS40 True Biotic is an important step in this direction.

What sets it off from other writing instruments?

Before I get technical, let me summarize the answer in a picture that sums up the most important points: If the casing of a True Biotic should ever get into the sea, it will sink to the bottom and will then quickly and completely decompose. And if you put it in the earth next to your tomatoes in the garden, it will be decomposed by microbes and even act as fertilizer. No other writing instrument casing can do this – not even those made from renewable vegetable raw materials (PLA). These remain largely intact in the sea.

So what’s the secret?

The innovative material. True Biotic casings are made of PHAs. These are natural polyester polymers that are synthesized by various micro-organisms through the fermentation of sugars or lipids. They are macromolecules which, under certain conditions, such as the absence of nutrients, are accumulated by microorganisms as a reserve carbon source in the form of granules in their own cells. In this way, PHA can account for up to 90% of the dry weight of an organism. The fact that the biopolymers are created during the natural food production of these organisms clearly demonstrates just how natural their origin and how renewable their production is. Only CO2 and water are released during decomposition, which then re-enter the cycle of nature – and everything can start all over again.

Can you cue us in as to where we are getting the material from?

This is an important question, because origin is a proof of quality. We have been working for many years with MAIP, headquartered in Torino. The company is an acknowledged pioneer in the field of innovative bioplastics. Our True Biotic is based on a variant of MAIP’s “I’m Nature” biopolymer, optimized for our specific parameters. This PHA-based bioplastic took the prestigious “Global Bioplastic Award” in 2017. A genuine milestone – and naturally it is patent protected.

Why PHAs?

Greenpeace and institutions such as the German Federal Environment Agency rightly point out that biobased and biodegradable bioplastics do not solve our plastics problem as such. On the contrary, there is quite a lot of greenwashing going on. A writing instrument made of bioplastics, which is soon discarded due to its poor quality, has an inferior environmental balance than a writing instrument made of recycled or even normal plastic that has been designed for a long life. In the case of many bioplastics, which are de facto only compostable in industrial plants, biodegradability remains theory. And if the production of renewable raw materials is based on intensive agriculture with high water consumption and the use of fertilizers, in the end there is not much more left of sustainability than the abandonment of fossil raw materials. Are we going to be content with that? Hardly! The price for this seems too high to me. So all this speaks clearly in favour of using PHAs.

One more statement in concluding?

We have a clear position: we are convinced that the close link between innovation and sustainability will result in the decisive solutions for the future. And we have these competencies in the team to be part of the solution, not the problem. And you know yourself, Laura, that this is a highly motivating factor in our work …

… absolutely!

For me personally, I would like to add that the transformation of our supply chain into a green supply chain is a driver of my work. It is what I dream about, and not just at night, it is also what I have been working on scientifically – and it is an important part of our future as a company. And that is also what True Biotic stands for. The material is a step in the right direction – and I can promise that we will be going even further still.

Thank you, Alessandro! I’m already looking forward to our next interview!