By Claire Ballentine

February 16, 2018 01:46 PM

A Raleigh startup wants to make the diaper industry greener, and on Wednesday it received $17.6 million to help it do so.

Tethis, a biomaterials company started by North Carolina State grad students, has spent the past five years developing a biodegradable alternative to the super absorbent polymers used in diapers. The company has received past funding from the Wolfpack Investor Network from North Carolina State University and the Carolina Angel Network from UNC-Chapel Hill, but their latest round of funding is their largest so far.

The Series C investment, as such large-scale funding is known, was led by the Blue Hill Group based in Chapel Hill. It will allow Tethis to scale up to commercial production of Tethex, its biodegradable product.

Companies that make disposable diapers now rely on petrochemicals from sodium polyacrylate to make products absorbent. While some parents turn to cloth diapers, they come with their own concerns about detergents, water and energy use.

“We discovered we were able to take our technology and make an alternative based on green renewable ingredients,” said Scott Bolin, co-founder and CEO of Tethis. “We’ve been working on that for several years, and diaper companies have really responded warmly.”

He said the company is hoping to use its new funding to create a full-scale line that would make tens of thousands of tons of the material each year to sell to diaper companies.

“We are excited about the potential of the Tethis products,” said Steve Lerner, one of the Blue Hill Group managing partners, in a press release. “Scott and the team have developed a transformative technology that will fundamentally change the diaper industry by moving it into a more sustainable space less dependent on oil. We’re proud to be a part of this significant phase.”

Bolin said Lerner was an angel investor in the company for several years. When he saw that Tethis was approaching personal milestones, he helped assemble funding from the Blue Hill Group as a whole.

When showcasing their products at diaper conferences, Bolin said Tethis received a lot of enthusiasm. He said there is an increased demand in this industry for more green alternatives.

Tethis is also exploring products and partnerships in other industries such as pulp and paper, cosmetics and agriculture.

Bolin noted the importance of providing biodegradable alternatives to reduce waste in landfills.

“In some parts of the world, it’s approaching an ecological disaster,” he said. “As the parent of a baby, I worry a lot about the future we’re going to be leaving him. I want him to know we did everything we could to take care of our environment.”

Darius Mims, a Tethis employee, working in the lab. Courtesy of Tethis

Darius Mims, a Tethis employee, working in the lab. Courtesy of Tethis