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RiKarbon expands lab space amid BASF deal

Katie Tabeling

RiKarbon will move from the Delaware Technology Park at the STAR Campus to a new lab at the Delaware Industrial Park. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK — An early-stage environmental solutions company is opening a new lab in the Delaware Industrial Park, with plans to bring on 12 more employees in the next three years.

RiKarbon, a company focused on engineering non-oil-based lubricant from waste feedstock, will be renovating 2,540 square feet of research-and-development lab space in the Delaware Industrial Park. With the new space, the startup will continue to scale its projects for skin care products.

Basudeb Saha, founder of RiKarbon, talks to a congressional delegation at a 2021 visit to Delaware Technology Park. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Basudeb Saha, president of RiKarbon, said that the company has landed a partnership with BASF’s cosmetics and cleaners division last year to convert waste into unique emollient chemical structures. BASF, the world’s largest chemical company that also has a location in Newport, is aiming to bring RiKarbon’s technology in-house and market it in 2024.

RiKarbon is also working with brands like Estée Lauder and L’Oréal, which are eager to evaluate the product and place orders, Saha said.

“We’ve demonstrated the scalability of our process to [BASF] and we’ve worked hard with them over the past two years,” he told the state’s jobs investment board, the Council on Development Finance (CDF), on Monday morning. “With Estée Lauder we’ve been working with them since last December, and they have 20 innovation teams formulating the products for applications, and funding our product. It is registered and we’re working for them to release our product in China, and we expect the volume to exponentially grow.”

Saha is a published researcher who previously worked in Dow Chemical’s polyurethane division and launched RiKarbon at a 600-square-foot lab in the Delaware Technology Park in 2018. Today, the company has six employees.

Over the years, the company has grown and won a 2019 Tech Connect Innovation Award and was awarded federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding for research and product scaling. CDF backed RiKarbon in January 2022 with a $50,000 grant to complement the SBIR award.

The startup is recreating ingredients similar to those used in shampoo, conditioner, facial products or automotive engines. Last year, RiKarbon used the SBIR funding to develop a lubricant and test it on hydro-powered machines. The bio-lubricant market is valued at $158 billion globally for industrial and commercial applications. But Saha noted that while there are a number of alternatives, none have the health sustainability profile that RiKarbon’s products can deliver. 

“But we are bringing a new innovation in this space to produce an audience from an agricultural place. We use carbon that is sourced completely from feedstock like corn,” he said. “We have three variations of products and we are working with number investors to get money. But to do that, we need to demonstrate the process and go to a larger scale and go to 250 tons in the next four years.”

The CDF approved on Monday a total grant of $60,000 for RiKarbon, which includes $34,000 for graduate lab space construction and $26,000 for job creation.

Both Gov. John Carney and New Castle County Executive touted the news in a Monday press release, pointing to RiKarbon’s success as a sign of the First State’s foothold in the sustainable market.

“We’re pleased that RiKarbon Inc. – a recognized leader in carbon capture – has chosen to expand in Delaware,” Carney said in a prepared statement. “The company that started in a Delaware Technology Park incubator space will quadruple its square footage and add full-time jobs to continue to make Delaware a leader in the environmental space.”

“Congratulations to Delaware’s own RiKarbon, born right here in the First State, on their continued growth in the field of carbon capture,” Meyer said. “It’s with great pride that we can say this company was incubated right here in Newark and has chosen to continue to expand where the talent lies, right here in Delaware.”

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