A company that's using microbes to produce biodegradable materials for everything from plastic bags to clothing just raised $90 million
- San Diego-based Genomatica announced on Wednesday it has raised $90 million to apply its approach of using microbes to produce biodegradable chemicals to more projects.
- So far, Genomatica can produce two chemicals used in plastic bags and cosmetic products. It has plans to expand into making sustainable nylon for the fashion industry.
- The funding will help the company expand into producing other chemicals more sustainably.
In the future, the plastic used in your grocery bags, coffee pods, or clothing might be produced by microbes.
One company in the space, Genomatica, is using biotechnology to produce the chemicals needed to make plastic bags. On Wednesday, Genomatica raised $90 million bringing its total funding raised to $231.8 million.
Venture firm Casdin Capital led the round, with Viking Global Investors, and Ginkgo Bioworks, another synthetic biology company, participating as well.
The approach Genomatica is using is called synthetic biology, or the ability to use a cell - like yeast or E. coli - to produce something beyond its intended purpose, like excreting a new drug, using yeast to create a new fragrance, or even producing silk for a tie. In Genomatica's case, it could be used to make a chemical that can then be used in biodegradable plastic bags.
It's different from how chemicals are traditionally made. Most of the materials we use every day are made by a process of turning crude oil into chemicals that become the building blocks for materials like polyester, Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling told Business Insider.
"We're a biotech company using biotech as a way to make widely used chemicals," Schilling said.
So far, the company's made two chemicals.
- 1,4-butanediol is the first one. It's used in biodegradable plastic bags. Through a plant in Italy, Genomatica and its partner Novamont can currently can make 30,000 tons.
- The other is butylene glycol, a chemical that's used used in cosmetics and self-care products.
Gingko Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly told Business Insider that what got him excited about working with Genomatica - both as an investor and as a partner - was that the company was producing sustainable versions of chemicals in large enough volumes to compete with current production methods.
"It's one of the only examples of actually producing a product that's disruptive to petrochemicals at scale," Kelly said. He also pointed to the interest millennials have in using sustainable products as a driving force behind the industry, as seen in the recent swell of support in banning plastic straws.
The additional funding will be used to help Genomatica expand into other chemicals using its microbe-based approach. There are about 30 intermediate chemicals like butanediol and butylene glycol, each of which could be made through microbes rather than oil. The company's next project: using microbes to make nylon fabric for fashion brands, feeding into the interest of consumers in materials made in a sustainable way.
"Nylon gets to the trends in fashion where the need for sustainability is becoming more paramount," Schilling said.
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