Biotechnology startup Woodoo has closed a $31 million funding round to support their mission to unlock a new industrial age. The French company transforms wood — even diseased wood that would previously have been discarded — on a molecular level, making materials that can replace anything from leather to steel.
The round was led by Lowercarbon Capital, who was joined by One Creation and Swiss firm Purple. Woodoo will use the fund to scale its platform and continue to develop its transformative materials.
Woodoo’s founder and CEO Timothée Boitouzet told TFN about how the company got started, the technology behind it, and how it will transform construction.
Working with the problems of yesterday’s materials
Boitouzet started by designing buildings, rather than the materials that make them. “I’m trained as an architect,” he told us, “and had the opportunity to work with three Nobel Laureates.” However, it was during this time that he realised how old some construction techniques were, concrete was first used by the Romans, while glass had been developed by the Egyptians. “It became clear that we cannot build the future with material technologies invented millennia ago.”
Resolving to address this, he quit architecture and returned to university, studying chemistry at Harvard and MIT. In 2017, he founded Woodoo, and the company now has two manufacturing sites in France, and has recently formed a partnership with Garnica, a leading European industrialised wood constructor, to use Woodoo’s products in their portfolio.
Taking wood, and making it better
Wood was probably one of the first building materials used by humans, but Woodoo is using modern technology to transform it. “Wood is made of three building blocks,” Boitouzet explained, “lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose. Lignin is the weak part, as it is the ‘glue’ between fibres, giving the material poor strength.” The lignin is also susceptible to UV light and humidity.
Woodoo’s process removes and replaces the lignin without destroying the wood’s structure. It means that Woodoo can work with low-grade and even diseased wood, and transform it into high-quality materials with a range of properties. They produce three products. Slim, a transparent material that can be used for touch interface, Flow, a flexible material that can replace leather, and Solid, which can outperform concrete and steel in construction at just a fraction of the carbon footprint.
Behind this is a diverse team of forty. “Woodoo bridges very diverse deeptech expertise, and all fundamental science fields are represented,” says Boitouzet. The team is 31% female, and has members from eight different nations. Boitouzet says this, “creates a unique team where the most talented individuals can learn from one another.”
Making wood the material of the future
Boitouzet says his team want to make wood the material of the 21st century. Chris Sacca of Lowercarbon Capital, referred to this when discussing their investment, “turning dead wood into skyscrapers isn’t just an environmental feat, it also directly translates into eye-catching aesthetics, leaner construction budgets, and fatter bottom lines.’
And the environmental impact is significant. Wood naturally acts as a carbon sink, and Woodoo’s processes mean it can go a long way to addressing the environmental harm caused by the construction industry. “Concrete and steel production emit one-fifth of the global greenhouse gases,” Boitouzet told us. But with wood storing up to a ton of CO₂ and Woodoo’s low-energy transformation, their products have a carbon footprint that is seven times lower than glass, thirty times lower than leather, and 229 times lower than construction aluminium. Boitouzet has ambitions goals as a result: “our aim is to reduce one gigaton of eCO₂ between now and 2030.”
As well as their environmental goals, Woodoo will be using the funding to scale their manufacturing capacity and double their team size. And, Boitouzet says, help to address the otherwise irreconcilable problem of managing the construction we need while protecting the environment. “The material industry is broken,” he says, “demand is skyrocketing, but traditional materials have prohibitive economic, social, and environmental tolls.”
By providing a range of luxury materials that are carbon negative, Boitouzet believes that Woodoo can revolutionise the materials industry, and is focusing on construction materials not just because of the demand, but because of the difference Woodoo can make. “The construction sector will need to build the equivalent of ten New Yorks each year to accommodate the boom in urban dwellers in the coming three decades,” Boitouzet said. “Future cities will need to be built higher, denser, faster, cheaper, and with a low environmental impact. This is precisely what Woodoo can provide.”