Making paper out of rock is not just a novel idea — it saves water, is both recyclable and potentially biodegradable, and uses a mineral resources available anywhere on Earth.
TBM Co, a Japanese start-up known for its technology that turns limestone into business cards, plastic folders and food containers, is seeking to raise another round of funding to expand overseas before it prepares for an initial public offering in a couple years.
The process of turning stone into paper originated in Taiwan, the company’s Web site says.
The chief executive began importing the material to Japan and later developed the Limex technology.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc, trading house Itochu Corp and Toppan Printing Co, Japan’s largest printer by sales, have already invested in the manufacturer.
TBM, which raised ￥1.6 billion (US$14 million) and ￥3.1 billion in its latest two rounds, is looking to secure several billion yen, chief executive officer Nobuyoshi Yamasaki said.
The goal is to establish overseas partnerships before seeking an initial public offering, he added.
“Our next round is for overseas expansion, both for production and sales,” the chief executive said at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. “We want to expand aggressively overseas and to do that we need the funding to hire more people.”
As a result, TBM is pushing back its planned timing for an initial public offering by about a year to 2021, Yamasaki said.
The company was valued at ￥56.3 billion in its latest financing, he said.
Although TBM has not disclosed its latest annual sales, Yamasaki said revenue would grow at least fivefold in the coming year.
The company has won a contract to supply beef-bowl franchise Yoshinoya Co with menus made with Limex, its limestone-based paper product.
A new mass-production factory near Sendai, north of Tokyo, is to come online next year to produce 30,000 tonnes of Limex products per year.
TBM started by selling material for business cards.
The material is smooth, like laminated paper, and is much harder to tear or bend. That makes it ideal for restaurants; more than 400 sushi restaurants run by Sushiro Global Holdings Ltd across Japan also use Limex paper for their menus.
The material can be recycled and turned into paper products or more durable items such as folders, bowls and plates.
One key feature of Limex is that it can be made without using water. By comparison, it takes about 85 tonnes of water to make a tonne of regular paper. That also requires 20 trees, while TBM’s process uses less than a tonne of limestone, in addition to 200kg of polyolefin.
The company also says greenhouse gas emissions are about 20 percent less than traditional paper printing.
Yamasaki, who left school at 15 and began his career as a carpenter, established TBM in 2011.
Yamasaki’s goal is to sell ￥1 trillion of Limex through the mid-2030s.
He plans to license Limex to manufacturers outside Japan, especially in limestone-rich, water-poor areas such as Saudi Arabia.