Uluu Co-Founders & CEOs Dr Julia Reisser and Michael Kingsbury Speak on How Their Company Aims to Revolutionise Marine Health


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Sustainability savants Dr Julia Reisser and Michael Kingsbury are working towards a plastic-free future. Together the eco-warriors co-founded the Australian-based company “Uluu“, creating sustainable plastic-like substitutes made from seaweed as an alternative to fossil fuels. Uluu is a new biodegradable biomaterial that was conceived in an effort to combat marine pollution by cleaning up oceans, and promoting marine biodiversity while its seaweed-based material does not negatively impact precious farmland. In January 2024, Uluu released “surf wax combs”, their first commercial product crafted in partnership with surf brand Quiksilver, signaling the start of the company’s efforts in creating “high-performance textiles that are better for people and the planet”.

LUXUO speaks to this dynamic duo on their journey to create Uluu, their future plans for international development, and how they aim to empower Southeast Asia’s female seaweed farmers.

Read More: The Rise in Awareness and Importance of Ocean-Safe Products

Tell us about your respective backgrounds and what led you to co-lead Uluu.  

Julia: I’ve spent my life studying plastic pollution in our oceans. As part of my PhD, I created the first map of microplastics in Australian waters and I was the lead scientist for The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch not-for-profit developing technology to remove plastic from the seas. But I realised that until we have a compelling alternative to plastic, the problem is just going to keep getting worse. That’s where the idea for Uluu was born.

Michael: My background is in corporate law, working as an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer and business executive. But I’ve always been interested in science and technology businesses. I met Julia in 2020, together we turned the idea of a plastic alternative from seaweed into a blueprint we could dedicate our lives to.

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You explained, “…by extracting and fermenting the sugars from seaweed, Uluu’s scientists are able to extract polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) to create bioplastic pellets.” Who developed and patented this innovative technology? 

Firstly, ULUU aims to target packaging and textiles as industries where its products can replace traditional, fossil fuel-derived plastic. 

PHAs are biodegradable, natural materials produced by microbes. They’ve shown promise as a plastic alternative for a while because they act like plastic but break down in nature. What Uluu has done that’s really exciting is develop a unique process that makes PHAs using seaweed.

You have organised successful rounds of fundraising and are now operating a pilot plant. What have you learned so far from this initial live operation?

Producing PHAs from regeneratively grown seaweed means our material not only tackles plastic pollution but is climate-positive and restores ocean health. The technology was developed and patented by our lab in Western Australia.

Bigger is not necessarily better! We have realised that building and operating a small-scale test plant allows us to repeat our process more often and innovate faster. It’s super useful for innovation to have this step between the lab bench and a commercial plant.

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Approximately USD 100 million is needed to build the first Uluu commercial plant before you scale up to develop international plants. How do you approach this ambitious project and what research is involved in the building of a full-scale Uluu plant? 

Uluu is a super collaborative company and this endeavour is no different. It is going to require more than one organisation to make it happen.

We want to work with seaweed farmers to make sure they reap the benefits of this technology. We want to work with manufacturers and brands who really want to make their products out of Uluu rather than plastic. We also want to work with governments, who are realising that when you consider the true cost of plastic, including disposal, the alternative is actually quite cheap.

On the technology side of things, we are using our test plant to optimise production on a smaller scale, so we can be confident in our costs and in our ability to produce a consistent product when we scale up.

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Indonesia is key to the development of Uluu, can you tell us more about the close partnerships you have in place? 

Uluu has established a joint venture in Indonesia, called SeaSae, which is working on the ground with seaweed cooperatives to ensure our supply chain is traceable and transparent.

We are also grateful to be partnering with WWF-Indonesia, who are empowering our farming cooperatives to apply for certification through the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. If successful, they will be the first certified seaweed farmers in Indonesia.

Can you elaborate on Uluu’s use of farmed seaweed rather than terrestrial crops or waste as a carbon source to produce a plastic alternative?

It is also possible to produce PHAs from other feedstock, such as land crops and waste. But making them from farmed seaweed is really exciting because it doesn’t consume water, fertiliser and arable land that could otherwise be used to grow food. Seaweed can also scale to completely replace the 400 million tonnes a year of plastic currently produced.

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At Uluu, as we established our business, we saw that there was a lot of potential for female empowerment, which is the quickest way to empower a community.

It’s exciting for us that seaweed farming is naturally a female-led industry. We are big believers in poverty alleviation through our supply chain, and research shows that empowering women is the quickest way to create multigenerational change.

Creating sustainable jobs in coastal communities aligns with our vision to take care of all our stakeholders, not only our customers and investors but also our staff and suppliers.

Do you have clients for the Uluu products that are in the works? Are there any successful case studies you would like to share with our readers? 

In January, we released our first commercial product —surf wax combs— in partnership with surf brand Quiksilver. The response we had to that campaign was amazing.

The wax combs were small, limited edition items that were sold with Quiksilver boardshorts and were super meaningful as a first step in replacing plastic with materials that are good for the world.

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Your story is incredibly inspiring. What is your advice to young entrepreneurs who want to follow your steps in other parts of the world? 

Find your passion and be persistent. Stick to your beliefs, even if another path looks easier.

Create a goal-oriented mindset, focus and work hard. Have the courage to be vulnerable and work on your dreams. And get started!

Lastly, can you name one mentor who inspired both of you in your daily lives?

Julia: Someone who really changed my thinking from an academic mindset to an entrepreneurial mindset was marine scientist Professor Carlos Duarte. He taught me to view the ocean not only as a magical place but as something that can offer solutions for many of humanity’s challenges.

Michael: My dad. He taught me to be strong, to be patient but persistent, to listen without judgment, and to love the ocean and the natural beauty around us.

For more on Uluu, head to their website and social media pages: Instagram, Linkedin.

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