Blazing a global trail with straw firelighters

July 05, 2024 | 10:33
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Firelighters made from straw, developed by Nguyen Xuan Tai, are being exported to the United States and Canada as an innovative, eco-friendly product.

Beyond merely making brooms, Tai, the founder of Ulstraw JSC, believes he can change the world with a single straw.

Blazing a global trail with straw firelighters

"Many people think this mission is fanciful, but I am extremely confident," Tai told VIR. "Our vision is to transform straw into a new, more efficient, and environmentally friendly fuel."

In the name Ulstraw, the "Ul" stands for "Ultra", suggesting that straw possesses great power.

Tai’s confidence is well-founded, as evidenced by the highly positive reviews from American customers, despite the product only being on the market for about a year. The company has received 100 per cent customer satisfaction, with 82 per cent giving it the highest rating.

The key difference between Vietnamese firelighters and international products is the raw material.

“Using straw instead of wood or paper, our product is softer, lighter, more easily ignited, even in damp conditions, and burns longer than other products,” Tai asserted.

Ulstraw is the world’s first and only startup to use straw, an abundant agricultural by-product, to produce firelighters. The product is primarily sold on Amazon in boxes of 50, priced at $19.99.

Not only a business, Ulstraw is also a social impact startup. The company pursues UN Sustainable Development Goals 8 and 13, aiming to increase incomes for farmers and reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions.

“By producing firelighters, Ulstraw turns straw from waste into a new material. For every 10,000 boxes sold, Vietnamese farmers earn an additional $7,600 and save approximately 26,000 kg of CO2 emissions,” Tai shared.

“We have redefined straw, seeing it not as waste but as a natural resource that benefits everyone, from farmers to customers and society at large,” he explained.

Reflecting on his journey, Tai nostalgically recalled how he stumbled upon the firelighter idea.

“I first learned about firelighters from a foreign friend’s photo in 2018. It became an obsession, leading me to research online, and then spend two years experimenting with different materials like wood and paper before choosing straw,” Tai said.

“It took hundreds of trials to find the right production formula.”

Despite numerous challenges, Tai's straw startup won first prize in the Social Business Creation competition in Canada last year, laying the groundwork for this straw enthusiast to take his product beyond Vietnam's borders and aim for greater ambitions.

“Ulstraw will continue to create products primarily made from straw. Besides the Eco Firelighter, there will be other products like pellets and shock-resistant films. With international support, I may focus more on foreign investors,” Tai concluded.

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By Hoang Minh - Nhung Bui

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