The states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil, are responsible for 75% of the country’s rice production, representing 12 million tons per year. The crop brings with it an environmental problem: 2.2 million tons of husks remain as a residue, the burning of which leaves 200 thousand tons of ashes and the subsequent pollution of the air and soil. Turning this waste into an opportunity to innovate has been the work of Diana Finkler, a pioneering industrial chemist in the development of new materials for the chemical industry.
Diana remembers the moment when she had the inspiration that would define her career. It happened during an industrial chemistry class in college, in 2010, while the professor was discussing different chemical materials and their applications. Among them, she mentioned silica – a highly valued chemical in various industries, which can be extracted from the earth’s crust, but also from ashes from rice husks.
“Right then I thought, what if we use silica and derivatives from the ashes as raw material to make more sustainable tires? Tires with better waterproofing, a longer useful life, and therefore less polluting,” Diana recalls. That promising line of research would become the subject of her thesis and the opportunity to transfer newfound knowledge to industry and innovation.
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In 2011, Diana presented her research for the Santander Universities Awards in Brazil and was the winner in the category “Entrepreneurship in Industry”. The Award granted her seed capital and access to an entrepreneurship course at Babson College, to continue her research and open a company that would allow her to commercialize technological developments. That same year she created Marina Technology and patented a new nano-product derived from silica.
The novel compound that she had first imagined in the classroom can be used in the manufacture of multiple products, from rubber seals to prevent fuel leakage, production of water purifying filters, the manufacture of inks and adhesives, or products for civil construction and the agricultural and food machinery industry. Diana’s invention also fulfilled her original idea of producing “green” tires, with higher performance and durability, whose production comes from a renewable source: ashes from rice husks. “Today there are vehicles rolling in Brazil with this technology,” says Diana.
Over time, innovation also brought with it the solution to a bigger problem. Through a technological license between Marina Tecnology and the German-owned company Oryzasil, the latter inaugurated in 2019 the first silica factory from renewable sources in the town of Itaqui, in Rio Grande do Sul. In that state, affected by the ecological impact of the rice production, the goal is now to process 140 thousand tons of husks annually and obtain 28 tons of ash for transformation into silica and derivatives with a high added value.
Together with Oryzasil’s investment, the project was possible thanks to a loan of 13 million reais (more than 2 million dollars) and non-reimbursable resources for 4.2 million reais (more than 600 thousand dollars) from the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (Finep, in Portuguese), Brazil’s national innovation agency, within the framework of a financing program with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
For Diana, the success of her venture is not measured only by the new knowledge and technologies generated, but by the social, economic and environmental impact. “The socioeconomic impact of an industrial plant like Oryzasil’s in a low-income city is very high, in terms of employment and opportunities for people, in addition to the positive environmental effect of reusing the ashes,” she says.
Currently, Marina Technology boasts several nano-products obtained from the ashes of the rice husks, a constant expansion which has led this line of products to earn the name of “Roz Family”, a progeny that could continue to grow in the future. These are new materials with applications in various industries such as cement, cellulose, plastics, inks, polymers, petroleum, sanitation and fashion
Outside of the “Roz Family,” Marina Tecnology is also a pioneer in technology for the manufacture of perfluoroelastomers, compounds of great elasticity and resistance to high temperatures, with applications mainly in the oil and gas industries. It is a development for the manufacturer Serall. Among the companies that already using the product is Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company. For the NTC Plastics company, and with the support of Finep, a new compound for plastic injection with carbon fiber is also being developed, a material of lower weight and high resistance that can replace metallic products.
Marina Tecnology has been growing for a decade, always retaining its will to innovate.
“My goal is to continue developing new solutions to the problems of society and industry,” says Diana. For her, the challenges of the present are not an impediment, but an incentive for others to follow the same path that led her to found Marina Technologyh. “I believe that the pandemic has spurred the culture of entrepreneurship among scientists. And my vision is that every researcher is a potential entrepreneur”.