Finalist: Upcycling+

What is upcycling+?

Upcycling+ is creating the capacity to manufacture diesel fuel from discarded, non-recyclable plastic waste. This technology enables the profitable production of diesel from plastic waste with a smaller estimated greenhouse gas footprint than from petroleum, and offsets the costs that consumers and businesses currently pay to dispose of their solid plastic waste. Upcycling+ will initially generate revenue by manufacturing and selling diesel to early adopters who are motivated or mandated to use low sulfur (i.e., clean) diesel and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Quick Facts

Company Name: Upcycling+

Location: Ames, Iowa

Founder(s): Akalanka Tennakoon, Xun Wu, Aaron Sadow, Wenyu Huang, Matt Herman

Year Founded: 2023


About the Leadership Team

The Upcycling+ team combines expertise in the renewable fuels business, expertise in plastic waste conversion technologies, and a multi-year effort in market research and customer discovery. 

Akalanka Tennakoon specializes in the construction, management, and optimization of reactor systems. With a strong background in R&D and a talent for project management, Akalanka has spearheaded the development of numerous intellectual properties in polymer deconstruction. His experience in business incubators has honed his ability to deliver tailored technical solutions aligned with customer needs and value propositions. From conceptualization to execution, Akalanka has led progressive projects, aligning objectives with the organizational mission.

Xun Wu is a chemist with five years of specialized experience in nanostructure design for plastic upcycling. He served as the Entrepreneur Lead in the NSF I-Corps program, where he conducted over 200 in-depth customer discoveries. His work resulted in the creation of a preliminary customer ecosystem map, a critical tool for our venture. Xun will focus on market research, and actively lead the exploration and management of customer profiles.

Aaron Sadow is an expert at leading large, complex technical projects, organizing and managing teams involving up to fifty people with annual operating budgets of greater than $4 million. He has worked in the plastic conversion/upcycling space for over six years, winning over $20 million dollars in funding from the Department of Energy and Iowa-based seed funding mechanisms. He has also developed significant intellectual property around plastic upcycling, with seven patents granted or pending.

Wenyu Huang is a specialist in developing innovative catalysts and catalytic processes for converting plastics into high-value chemicals. He has been working in the field of waste plastic conversion for five years and has secured more than $2 million in funding from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. He has been able to develop innovative solutions that can help address the growing problem of plastic waste. His focus on developing sustainable and environmentally friendly processes has led to the creation of five patents that have been granted or are pending.

Matt Herman has nearly a decade of experience working in the renewable liquid fuel sector, both in industry at Renewable Energy Group and in public roles through industry associations such as the National Biodiesel Board. Matt comes to Upcycling+ with deep expertise in petroleum markets, life cycle environmental assessment and key knowledge of the public policy drivers underpinning the energy transition. Matt joined the Upcycling+ team as an advisor to support the company’s early commercialization efforts.