Photo of Andrea Bonilla

Energy & sustainability

Andrea Bonilla

Develops biomaterials to replace plastics from the sargassum that pollutes Mexican coasts.

Year Honored


Latin America

Hails From

Plastic pollution already reaches the sky: there are microplastics present even in the clouds, and it even rains plastic. It is a consequence of the current model of consumption: every minute a million plastic bottles are bought and every year 500,000 million plastic bags are used, according to the UN. We ingest and drink microplastics that contain possibly toxic chemicals, although there is insufficient data on their effect on human health.

To alleviate this problem, young Mexican Andrea Bonilla (34 years old) decided to create BioPlaster, a start-up that uses the remains of sargassum, a seaweed that invades the Caribbean coast, to produce sustainable bioplastics. "We want to solve the problem of plastic pollution through science," explains Bonilla, a nanotechnologist and molecular engineer from the Universidad de las Américas Puebla and a doctorate in physics from Oxford University. Thanks to this biotechnological development of the circular economy, the young woman has been chosen among the Innovators under 35 Latin America 2023 by MIT Technology Review in Spanish.

Sargassum is a macroalgae that floats in the Atlantic Ocean and is periodically propelled by ocean currents to the Caribbean coast. The excess of nutrients (as a consequence, among other factors, of the dumping of wastewater) causes an overpopulation of this algae with serious ecological consequences: it depletes the oxygen in the waters and prevents the entry of sunlight, which prevents photosynthesis by other living beings. Its decomposition contaminates soils and waters, in addition to affecting tourism, fishing, and local communities due to its accumulation and foul odor. But Bonilla has found in this regional problem the raw material to develop a sustainable alternative to plastics.

His project extracts valuable compounds such as cellulose and alginate from sargassum to produce biomaterials. Her first product is GreenShell, a biodegradable alternative to polystyrene that can be used for packaging. Another result of Bonilla's research is the creation of thermoplastics that replace PVC and PET to produce plastic packaging and films. Her innovation also makes it possible to improve agriculture thanks to the production of hydrogels that increase efficiency in the use of water and fertilizers.

BioPlaster is already collaborating with several multinational companies to supply them with biomaterials and thus stop using plastic as a single-use material. Bonilla's future plans include building a pilot plant to expand the company's production capacity. He also wants to optimize the biomaterials he develops and obtain new sustainable and biodegradable products to achieve a more environmentally friendly society.