We’ll stop short of calling former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini the richest footballer in the world – that title is thought to be held by 19-year-old Faiq Bolkiah, Leicester City reserves player and son of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah – but business acumen and a willingness to take risks has certainly propelled Flamini up the list.

Top level footballers earn vastly greater amounts than the average person. They retire having earned enough to keep them going long after.

According to Sportingintelligence’s Global Sports Salaries Survey, the average Premier League player earns £50,800 per week, or £2.64 million per year. Flamini has spent eight seasons in the English top flight during his career.

However, Flamini’s true worth is reportedly far higher than the multi-millions that he has earned on the football pitch, having invested his money into an ambitious biofuel business.

But how exactly did he go from football pitch to boardroom?

Founding GFBiochemicals

Flamini revealed in 2015 that he is behind an innovative company attempting to revolutionise a £20 billion energy industry.

Since 2008, GFBiochemicals, founded by Flamini and his business partner Pasquale Granata, had been working on mass-producing levulinic acid. The company hopes that its product will one day provide a sustainable alternative to oil-based products.

Levulinic acid, previously named by the United States Department of Energy as one of 12 “chemical building blocks” of the future, has the potential to replace petrol in all forms.

As an environmentally-friendly raw material with a large number of potential uses, producing levulinic acid on a large scale could transform the way fuel, pharmaceuticals, plastics, cosmetics and food preservatives are produced.

Revealing his connection to the company, Flamini told The Sun:

“I was always close to nature and concerned about environmental issues, climate change and global warming.”

“After a while we found out about levulinic acid. It’s a molecule identified by the US Department of Energy as one of the 12 molecules with the potential to replace petrol in all its forms. Researchers told us levulinic acid is the future and by doing research in that field we could come up with a great discovery and success.”

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GFBiochemicals has since made that breakthrough. It has figured out how to produce levulinic acid cost-effectively on an industrial scale (a method that the company has since patented).

At the time of the announcement, the company employed 80 people at its research and production plant in Caserta, Italy. However, GFBiochemicals has been scaling up in recent years through takeovers and partnerships.

Segetis acquisition

Increasing its investment in the biochemical industry, GFBiochemicals acquired the assets and intellectual property of Segetis in 2016. Prior to the takeover, Segetis was the leading producer of levulinic acid derivatives in the United States market.

They kept the financial side of the deal quiet. However, purchasing a company of Segetis’ size likely came at a large cost.

Segetis held over 250 patents, including fragrances, plastics, biopolymers, personal care products, household & industrial cleaners, agriculture chemicals and adhesive strippers.

Purchasing Segetis allows GFBiochemicals to produce a wide range of bio-based products using its own levulinic acid.

According to GFBiochemicals’ Chief Commercial Officer Marcel van Berkel, GFBiochemicals made the decision in order to get their products to the market quicker:

“With the acquisition of the Segetis assets and IP, including the Javelin brand of levulinic ketals technology, we can accelerate market entry for levulinic acid and its derivatives,”

“This acquisition marks an important transformational moment for GFBiochemicals and the beginning of growth strategy.”

American Process Inc. partnership

GFBiochemicals followed up the purchase of Segetis by announcing a partnership with biotech company American Process Inc.

API is best known for operating a Georgia-based biorefinery that produces cellulosic sugars, made by extracting sugars from grass, plants and wood. They can then use these sugars to create levulinic acid. This is, of course, of great use to GFB.

According to a statement released by the two companies, they plan to build a cellulosic biorefinery in order to expand their production of levulinic acid from roughly 10,000 tonnes a year to as much as 200,000 tonnes a year.

What next for GFBiochemicals?

Commenting on the partnership with American Process, company co-founder Granata said:

“We are proud to be working with American Process as we move to the next phase in our strategy. Over the past few years we have de-risked our patented technology and have proven that it can produce levulinic acid at a competitive cost to the oil-based equivalents.”

“Together with American Process we will be able to scale up our production of levulinic acid as well as offering a larger variety of bio-based products to the market.”

This will move Flamini a step closer to becoming a billionaire and reaching the lofty goal that the media has set him. The company estimates that they are now in a position to take the lion’s share of a $10 billion market.