Birch bark, once the preserve of canoe-makers, has now been discovered as an environmentally sustainable source for cosmetics.
Pavel Krasutsky, director of the Chemical Extractives Program at the University’s ‘Actives Factory’ has been applying patented processing methods to extract and synthesize the naturally occurring chemicals in birch bark in a bid to manufacture cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, industrial products and nutritional supplements for some time now.
Although these compounds hold promise for the development of new pharmaceuticals, The Actives Factory says it plans to firstly develop cosmetics and nutritional supplements by utilising its' chemicals - Betulin, lupeol, and betulinic acid.
"The birch tree is the oldest of all species of trees and it grows in the most severe of climates," Krasutsky explains.
"Over hundreds of thousands of years it has evolved to use chemicals to protect itself from bacteria, fungus, and viruses. The use of it's natural chemicals is well established in Europe and Asia, but use in the United States is just beginning to develop," he added.
Although naturally derived products can be costlier to manufacture, Brian Garhofer, president and CEO of The Actives Factory, predicts demand will grow in some niches.
As consumers become increasingly concerned with natural alternatives and environmental sustainability, he’s confident natural products may soon compete strongly with purely chemical derivatives in the personal care industry.
Scaling up the extraction process is the next step for the startup. The company plans to begin manufacturing products by spring of this year.
Birch bark is a waste stream by-product that can be obtained in large quantities from regional paper mills. The startup will obtain bark from sustainably managed and harvested resources in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"We believe we have some products that are unique, in demand, and highly beneficial which come from a natural, sustainable, and renewable resource," says Garhofer. "What was once being burned is now being brought out for human health benefits."