Genomatica goes big with Bio-BG

August 12, 2017 |

The secret is out about new 1,3 butylene glycol

In California, Genomatica continues to innovate in big ways with its latest Bio-BG butylene glycol using their new GENO BG process, which makes a naturally sourced 1,3 butylene glycol. This isn’t a pie in the sky innovation either as production already started in 85,000 liter fermentation tanks at EW Biotech in Leuna, Germany.

Ranked #7 in the Digest’s 2017 “50 Hottest Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy” Genomatica develops biobased process technologies that enable the production of widely-used chemicals from alternative feedstocks, with better economics, sustainability and performance than petroleum-based processes. Check out the Digest’s Multi-Slide Guide to Genomatica.

Why GENO BG is BIG news

We thought GENO BDO (1,4 butanediol) was pretty cool, especially when it was scaled up so quickly, so why do we think GENO BG is too? Genomatica’s new biobased process technology makes a naturally sourced butylene glycol that can replace the existing fossil fuel derived acetaldehyde that is toxic, an irritant and a carcinogen. Not good considering butylene glycol is used in many cosmetics to improve moisture retention and as a carrier for plant extracts, and many consumers are now demanding healthier products.

Genomatica’s innovation now offers personal care companies a more naturally derived, nontoxic option with its plant based ingredients. Even better, Genomatica’s version is a distinctively pure product and a simpler process design compared to fossil fuel-derived, chemistry-based processes, making it a great choice for large scale deployment.

While the GENO BG process was developed in stealth mode, the secret is out and its advancement has been super-fast, even beating out Genomatic’s GENO BDO process which quickly hit milestones on plant performance guarantees and worldwide production.

We should have known something exciting was going on, as the Digest recently caught up with Jeff Lievense during the Digest’s 10th anniversary “Then and Now” celebration, who said “It’s been great to watch Genomatica’s expertise grow as it developed its landmark 1,4-butanediol process. Last month, we announced that our process met its performance guarantees at Novamont’s plant in Italy. Now we’re on to piloting our next new product; growing our alliance with Ginkgo Bioworks; and building a robust opportunity pipeline.” Little did we know how exciting this next new product would be and how quickly it would happen.

“The GENO BG process marks our entry into specialty chemicals, complementing our leadership in intermediates,” said Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO. “GENO BG is another example of how quickly we can commercialize our bioengineering innovations and enable products with better performance and greater sustainability.”

ICIS, the world’s largest petrochemical market information provider, didn’t waste any time on applauding this hot innovation, naming Genomatica a finalist for the 2017 ICIS Innovation Awards (winners will be announced in October). These awards recognize innovation in products and processes with better use of energy and raw materials, improved economics, safer performance, and lower environmental impact.

Paving the pathways

Genomatica has been hitting quite a few milestones lately like reaching 10K tons for biobased 1,4 butanediol (BDO) worldwide, and meeting big milestones at the Novamont’s Bittrighe, Italy plant, as reported earlier this summer in the Digest. Following startup in late 2016, the Novamont Bio-BDO plant operations were notably smooth and added to volumes previously generated during production campaigns in 2012 and 2013. The earlier campaigns generated a few thousand tons and validated commercial scale performance and helped pave the way for the first dedicated Bio-BDO plant that uses the GENO BDO licensed technology.

“Our GENO BDO technology is fully de-risked and is continuously producing at scale,” said Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO. “Its reliability, attractive economics, sustainability advantages and continually-improving performance make GENO BDO a leading choice for new BDO plants. GENO BDO plants look even better given four straight quarters of increasing costs to produce petroleum-based BDO. Bio-BDO is here for brands and consumers of derivative products increasingly looking for greater sustainability and performance.”

Genomatica knocked everyone’s socks off in the past with its successful scale-up in Loudon, Tennessee, as reported in the Digest in January. The campaign produced millions of pounds of product in a six-week run and proved to the world that Genomatica not only had a great headquarters building and cool science, you could actually make real money running their process. Two things about that scale-up — they assembled a world-class team inside Genomatica, and partnered with a world-class facility in Loudon where the original scale-up of DuPont’s PDO (propanediol) biotechnology had taken place several years back.

As reported in the Digest in December 2016, Genomatica has been working with the AVAPCO, LLC ($3.7 million) project as well, with their demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery which is producing cellulosic renewable diesel and other bioproducts with Genomatica.

Genomatica knows who to make friends with as back in September 2016, the Digest reported the new alliance between Ginkgo Bioworks and Genomatica to accelerate the transition of the mainstream chemical industry to biological process technology. Bringing together a full stack of best-in-class capabilities with clear industry leadership, the alliance provides a compelling new reason for mainstream chemical firms to explore and adopt these new biological technologies. Jason Kelly, CEO, Ginkgo Bioworks said “Genomatica is the perfect ally to help bring the power of our foundries to mainstream chemical markets. Genomatica is proven at high-yield bio-based processes, which is essential for widespread deployment of cost-effective technology to produce major-market chemicals.”

Genomatica also partnered with Versalis on advancing the production of bio-butadiene specifically for Versalis’ use of it to make bio-rubber or more specficially bio-polybutadiene (bio-BR), as reported in the Digest February 2016. This was a huge milestone for the rubber industry with the use of sugars as feedstock rather than the usual hydrocarbon feedstocks. The project started with the establishment of a technology joint venture between Versalis and Genomatica in early 2013 which developed a complete process to make bio-BDE and license the resulting technology.

Genomatica has also held hands with Braskem since 2015 while jointly developing a commercial process for the on-purpose production of butadiene made from renewable feedstocks, as reported in the Digest in November 2015. Genomatica also expanded the scope of their license agreement with BASF for the production of 1,4-butanediol (BDO) from North America to Southeast Asia, as reported in the Digest in September 2015.

What does it all mean?

Rate. This Genomatica advance matters to a great extent because of what it says about rate. We’ve written so much about rate, but you can never emphasize it enough. In biorefining, we look carefully at the rate of bioconversion — which will determine whether a first commercial plant will reach its nameplate capacity. But there is also the rate of discovery, development and deployment. When venture capitalists began funding advanced bioeconomy ventures around a decade ago — they were not only interested in the opportunity to disrupt large fuel and chemicals markets with new technology, they were interested in disrupting the rate at which companies develop and bring forth molecules and processes. We have seen plenty of grief along the way with the downside, from time to time, of a “Step 1, Step 2, skip a few, Step 99, Step 100” approach to scale-up.

But Genomatica’s most recent advance gives us a window into the progress that is being made on the rate of development. BG? No one’s heard anything about it, it’s come up that quickly, been developed with that much speed. All the way from concept through the transfer to 85K fermenter scale. That’s significant.

Some time ago we wrote about a SynthBio Plug-and-Play model — about companies with the capability to produce a giant range of molecules of interest, and swap out organisms based on market demand, on price and volume — swinging from target molecule to target molecule and surfing the margins. Inherent in delivering on that vision was a rate of discovery and deployment — there’s going to be no margin surfing with the kind of development and deployment time that was typical in the 1990s and 2000s.

So, this Genomatica advance is a milestone on that journey towards plug and play — we’re far from the end of that journey, but let’s pause and note the progress that has been made on rate.

Bottom Line

We predict more innovations coming from Genomatica in the future as they build on their accomplishments and focus forward on finding sustainable, renewable feedstock technologies and processes to replace traditional fossil fuel chemicals. The fact that they have several smart, strategic collaborations and partnerships going on with other major players in the field shows that slow and steady may win the race sometimes, but if you are fast and furious with good people running with you, it’s even better.

Will Genomatica continue to move quickly and be an example to other companies? We think so. There are many clues, but perhaps the most telling one is Genomatica’s CEO, Christophe Schilling’s response when we asked him back in 2015, “If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?” His response: “Incumbents often move slowly to embrace new technology, even once it’s been proven. We believe early-movers can gain real market advantages that translate to higher share, revenues and profits. At Genomatica we ease those transitions by showing how readily our process technologies leverage existing infrastructure and capabilities.”


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