Exclusive Digest Q&A with ADM on Spiber Brewed Protein, biopolymers, partnership

November 9, 2020 |

As reported in The Digest recently, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and Japan-based Spiber partnered up to expand production of biobased polymers, called Brewed Protein polymers, produced through a fermentation process that utilizes sugars and microbes instead of petrochemical or animal-derived raw materials, for use in apparel, auto parts, high-performance foams, and other consumer products.

In today’s Digest, an exclusive interview with ADM’s Vice President of Bioactives on details behind the protein fermentation technology, what this means for sustainable materials, future plans and commercialization updates, thoughts on the sustainable proteins and polymers market, and more.

The partnership details

Frist, the backstory and details on the partnership. The Brewed Protein polymers will be produced by ADM in the U.S. using plant-based dextrose as a feedstock, and then shipped to Spiber downstream facilities, where they will be processed into an array of materials — primarily fibers — for use in a variety of applications such as apparel, lightweight auto parts, high-performance foams, and more. Brewed Protein polymers will play a critical role in expanding the range of plant-based, sustainable alternative materials, according to ADM’s press release.

You may know Spiber from its recent collaboration with North Face to create the “Moon Parka,” the first mass-manufactured jacket made from lab-grown spider silk. Japanese company Spiber, Inc. has developed a niche in producing sustainable industrial materials without relying on animals or polluting petrochemicals.

The partnership with Spiber is notable as it further solidifies ADM’s standing as a leader in protein fermentation. ADM, a $65B global agribusiness, has amassed deep expertise in large-scale fermentation technologies, which it will use to help Spiber scale. ADM is a top provider of corn-based raw materials, which are used to create bio-based, bio-degradable polymers, and has also invested in companies like Perfect Day, Geltor and Natures Fynd, ushering in the next wave of fermentation technologies.

Here’s our exclusive Digest Q&A with Collin Benson, Vice President of Bioactives at ADM:

The Digest: Can you tell us more about the protein fermentation technology?

Benson: “This is a tremendously innovative fermentation process, in which corn-based dextrose is used as a feedstock for specially cultivated microorganisms to create Brewed Protein, a type of protein that is not only plant-based, but can also be processed into bulk materials like fibers, foams and more. There is incredible demand from many industries looking for polymeric materials which are not only bio-based but also biodegradable, with good performance and at low cost. Spiber’s protein design platform intends to provide multiple protein variants that tick those boxes for applications spanning the apparel, automotive and medical industries.”

The Digest: What does this mean for protein fermentation polymers and more sustainable materials?

Benson: What’s so exciting about this is that it brings together so much of what we do and believe at ADM. It uses our entire value chain – from corn to dextrose to fermentation – to create something that is new, innovative, sustainable, and meets a critical need.

The Digest: Where do ADM and Spiber see this technology/partnership in 5 years?

Benson: We’re excited to continue to work with Spiber to continue to expand our capability to produce this innovative, sustainable, highly versatile product. We’re continuing to partner on engineering and development, and have signed a long-term tolling agreement for commercial production in the coming years.

The Digest: Can you share more details on plans for commercialization?

Benson: One of ADM’s key skill sets is bringing an innovative process like this to commercial-scale production. In the next few years, our hope is to see products made from Brewed Protein become available across the landscape, from clothes to car seats. Spiber has already been engaged in public joint development partnerships with such industry leaders as The North Face Japan, Toyota group companies, Bridgestone and more.

The Digest: What are your thoughts on the market overall for sustainable proteins and polymers?

Benson: Consumers today are looking for products they can feel good about buying, from companies they trust. And it has to be a great product as well. Protein materials in nature have highly complex structures with amazing performance properties and fit perfectly into nature’s circular material ecosystem. However, mass producing these proteins through fermentation at a viable cost has been historically challenging. A technology that can overcome these barriers and provide protein materials at viable costs to mass markets is in the right place for growth and success.

Here’s what Spiber had to say:

“After more than a year of working closely with ADM, we are pleased to take our partnership to the next level and expand Spiber’s production to the U.S.,” said Kazuhide Sekiyama, Spiber’s Co-founder, Director, and Representative Executive Officer. “ADM has an amazing team, providing significant value for our business not only through its fermentation expertise, but also as a provider of quality, corn-based raw materials used in our process.

This collaboration takes us to a new phase in the commercialization of Spiber’s materials — one in which Brewed Protein will be more widely available and at costs suitable for broader markets,” Sekiyama continued. “Proteins represent the pinnacle material platform evolved and adopted by life on earth to ensure survival. Spiber remains committed to blazing a trail in providing such material alternatives for industry and playing a role in the transition to a more sustainable society. We are excited to be taking the next important steps in that process together with ADM.”

Bottom Line

Fermentation going beyond beer is not new, but the innovative use of microbes, proteins, fermentation, and new technology to make ingenious consumer products that can replace fossil fuel based materials is a win-win-win, for the business, the planet and the consumer.

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