SynBio’s Undiscovered Country: Cemvita aims for chemical, mining, oil & gas industrial sectors with microbe-as-a-service

August 16, 2021 |

In Texas, Cemvita Factory announced the initial closing of its Series A financing, specifics of funds were not yet disclosed. The company continues to aim at providing microbes as a service to help decarbonize heavy industry — and the support of investors such as Oxy and Climate Capital confirms that they continue to show the right amount of progress to the right kind of people/.

Why mining, oil & gas, chemicals, why now?

In I Got 99 Problems but Product vs. Platform ain’t one: Introducing Microbes-as-a-Service, Cemvita Factory Moji Karimi identified the three questions which any SynBio company has to answer in building its commercial prospects:

1. Product or platform? The end molecule is the revenue source vs the microbe is the revenue source

2. What molecules to develop? High value, low volume vs High volume, low value

3. What market to serve? Verticals with SynBio capability/familiarity or not.

Typical ventures to date have been high value / low volume, targeting sectors like food, feed and pharma where there is a tradition of biology, and producing molecules as the revenue source. There’s been some expansion into producing microbes or providing optimization as a service — companies like Ginkgo and Zymergen leading the way — and some companies have focused on tools, such as Inscripta and Arzeda. 

Over time, expect more and more attention towards the high-volume sectors, and especially those with less of a tradition in biology — where service partners will be of more use. That’s the Undiscovered Country. And it’s the frontier toward which Cemvita has been marching, and lately there’s signs that the pathway will prove lucrative. We have independent evidence to point to now in the support from the Series A investors — 8090 Partners, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, Seldor Capital, Climate Capital, and others. All of whom have plenty of other calls on their capital.

What do they like? Reaction from the stakeholders

“While synthetic biology has proven to be effective in re-imagining food and proteins, we’ve long held a firm belief in synthetic biology’s promise in the heavy industrial space, but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive real innovation in the sector. Cemvita’s technology is a fundamental game-changer that provides a real economic solution and major players across heavy industry have taken serious notice.” — Rayyan Islam, Partner at 8090 Partners

“Cemvita’s technology is truly revolutionary in its use of CO2 and as a resource to provide viable economic solutions as more and more companies seek ways to reduce their carbon footprint. We remain impressed and excited about Cemvita’s technology’s positive impact on Earth and beyond,” said Sidney N. Nakahodo, Founder and General Partner of Seldor Capital.

What is Cemvita’s platform about?

Cemvita’s platform mitigates emissions resulting from traditionally energy-intensive chemical and catalytic conversion processes. Additionally, this same technology is able to turn polymer production into a low carbon activity by utilizing carbon dioxide (CO2) as a feedstock, a crucial step in building a circular carbon economy. Cemvita is currently working with a number of clients in industry to help them use CO2 as a resource to lower their carbon footprint. Of more than passing interest, the technology operates under ambient temperature and pressure.

Cemvita’s conversion platform leverages the biomimicry of natural processes to sustainably produce chemicals and polymers. Additionally, Cemvita’s biotech platform is used to develop and optimize low carbon bio-extraction processes, such as bioleaching for the mining industry.

The Cemvita backstory

Cemvita’s technology was first developed based on the fundamental research done by cofounder and CTO Dr. Tara Karimi which she published in a Springer book. Initially, Cemvita was funded by a space agency to develop a biological pathway for conversion of CO2 to glucose as a food source to enable deep space exploration. From there, the company developed 30 additional pathways from CO2 to other molecules targeted for the chemical industry and also launched its biomining vertical to grow into a synthetic biology platform, servicing the heavy industry.

Cemvita recently won the GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge and was also selected as a BloombergNEF Pioneer 2021, a cohort member at Carbon2Value Initiative. Cemvita will continue to expand its synthetic biology platform and is actively seeking additional hires across functions within the company as well as customers interested in bio-based low-carbon solutions.

Use of the proceeds: Targeting hydrogen, ethylene

Part of the Series A will be allocated to launch Cemvita’s bio-hydrogen solution, and to further support the construction and operation of a bio-ethylene pilot plant with OLCV, applying a jointly developed technology using human-made CO2 instead of fossil-fuel sourced feedstocks. The pilot project is expected to scale up the process that was successful in laboratory tests, which showed that the OLCV-Cemvita technology may be competitive with hydrocarbon-sourced ethylene processes. Ethylene is widely used in the chemical industry, primarily as a precursor to polymers used to make durable, long-life products.

The Bottom Line

A Series A is not proof of commercial success — the company is now developing a pilot for its lead technology, so let’s keep the prospects in perspective and keep in mind that -de-risking and commercial proof will come after the pilot, after the final process design of the end-to-end demonstration, and the construction and commissioning at commercial scale with bankable customers.

Nevertheless, a Series A is the first step where some decent due diligence can be done on the bench-scale results — clearly, the arrival of new investors and continuation from earlier investors offers evidence that the bench-scale results are validating enough of the overall plant to march forward with the company’s development. It’s an exciting opportunity, for this Undiscovered Country is a vast, in the spectrum of molecules, as the Americas must have seen once the Tudor-era explorers had grasped the dimensions of the land they had found.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Top Stories

Thank you for visting the Digest.