Postcode Lottery Green Challenge nominee Living Ink Technologies is a bioscience research and product company from Colorado (US). The company develops the first environmentally safe and sustainable printing inks grown from algae. We talked to co-founder and CEO Scott Fulbright to hear about the advantages of algae ink for the planet.

Why did you establish Living Ink Technologies?
Living Ink Technologies portret Scot“Out of college I worked at a company and that’s where I saw that private or public government money can fund companies to develop technologies. I learned that you can have a great idea but if it doesn’t get out into the world it doesn’t make an impact. One of the ways is commercialization. When I met my co-founder Steve at the first day of our PhD’s together we both said: I want to make this world a better place, using algae and microbes and sunlight to make products. We were studying biofuels at the time, so we knew what the big goal was, but also about the big challenges in that industry.

We asked ourselves: what can we work on, besides fuels, that will have a huge impact and is something we can commercialize? Every day we would throw an idea at each other. We probably came up with hundreds of ideas. And one day I got it: what if we could use algae for ink products? No one ever thinks about it, but if you look around you’ll see that ink is everywhere.”

How does Living Ink Technologies use algae to reduce CO2 emissions?
“Normal ink consists of 80% petroleum products and 20% pigments. Approximately 4 billion kg of ink are produced annually, which produces about 13.2 billion kg of CO2 equivalent. This is obviously difficult to calculate and many assumptions need to be made, but our biggest point is reducing the amount of petroleum that is used. By reducing the need for petroleum we hope to reduce the negative externalities related to oil drilling, production and usage.

Not only are we replacing petroleum products in ink production, we are also able to use environmental CO2 during the algae growth. Every ton of algae removes 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide. We’re ‘pulling’ CO2 out of the air to get the materials to make our ink products. When you look at the algae cells, the dry pigments that we use for our ink, you can literally touch the carbon material that previously was carbon dioxide. For us, that is beyond exciting.

By replacing current ink pigments we have the potential of replacing 3 billion kg CO2 equivalent. And we have the potential to use 1.2 million tonnes of algae, which corresponds to 2.4 billion kg CO2 equivalent removed from the atmosphere and sequestered into ink pigments. In summary, we have an opportunity to remove a net 5.4 billion kg CO2.”

What are the next steps for Living Ink Technologies?
“There are quite a few next steps! Currently, we are at lab-scale production where we can make several gallons of ink. In the next year we will do manufacturing runs of around 200 gallons and hopefully scale up to 10,000's of gallons in the next three years. Subsequently, we will look into selling this ink to printers worldwide.

Also, there are many specific types of ink, for different kinds of printers and different kinds of materials, such as paper, plastic, cardboard, etc. These need different formulations that we are developing now. We are increasing our colours, to have the full scope of printing colours.

We will be launching a stationery product line and other custom printing options on our website at the end of the summer. And beyond this initial product, we are partnering with Ecoenclose, a leader in sustainable packaging solutions, in our focus to replace all packaging inks. As we speak, we are manufacturing ink that they will print for their thousands of customers.”

Living Ink Technologies