TBM Co. (DBA Limex) is a Tokyo materials and cleantech startup that caught my eye with an innovative product called Limex. Limex is a new material made from limestone (yes the rock) that can be used to make paper and plastic. Currently 1 ton of normal paper requires 100 tons of water and 20 trees to produce whereas Limex paper requires no water or wood pulp. It is also recyclable. The original version of this technology is derived from a product known as Stone Paper developed in Taiwan in the late 1990s. Version 2.0 of this technology, Limex, is much lighter, thinner, cheaper, with a paper-like texture. In stereotypical fashion, the Japanese have taken a product from elsewhere and solved its primary challenges while making made it better and cheaper.
Limex paper is much harder to bend, tear, is age-resistant, and waterproof compared to regular paper (it can even be written on under water). The company's primary product today is Limex paper business cards. They also manufacture menus, posters, stickers, and other paper products. The company is beginning to investigate Limex as a foundation material for other applications including cloth, and as a building material.
As a plastic Limex is also unique in that most plastics are composite materials whereas Limex plastic can be made into films and sheets. Similar petroleum derived plastics are much pricier.
The firm was founded at the end of 2011 and is currently less than 100 employees. The founder is Nobuyoshi Yamasaki, a true entrepreneur in the jack of all trades sense - he has been a carpenter, used car dealer owner, and serial entrepreneur of a number of different businesses.
Why I like Them
Frankly, the technology here is just very cool and novel. Turning stone into plastic and paper in an environmentally friendly fashion is true product innovation. Even better they have patents in 43 countries.
From a business perspective TBM Co. has a very long and steep mountain ahead. Although the product is one of the most innovative I've seen recently, it will be a very hard sell, for them to scale beyond niche applications - regular wood derived paper is cheap, plentiful, and has a number of large established incumbents.
Limex is a more advanced version of a Taiwanese developed product called Stone Paper that in the decades it has been out has only found limited, niches applications. The main issues with the original Stone Paper product that Limex solves were it was heavy, expensive, with high manufacturing defect rates. However, consumers who used the initial version of the product reported high customer satisfaction. Limex appears be better marketed and distributed while solving the issues of the parent product. At the same time Limex's ability to also be a plastic substitute may open interesting new applications.
Disclosure: All information is from publicly available sources, I have not had any contact with a member of the company or its investors.