Another synthetic biology superstar nabs big cash for the future of sustainable materials

In a world where fossil fuels aren’t the foundation of modern industry, consumers should expect synthetic biology to replace oil and gas as the basic building blocks of the materials they use.


Image Credit: Flickr/Caroline Davis2010


That’s the zero-emission future everyone should hope for and the kind of world that companies like Genomatica, which just raised a whopping $118 million in funding, make possible.


The company is one of several businesses at the forefront of a new field of material science that builds with biology to make the kinds of basic products in the 21st century that oil and gas provided in the 20th.


See, plastic, nylon, spandex, and the other materials that make up modern life are made from cracking oil into various component chemicals that make up the foundation of the products we use.


Companies like Genomatica, Ginkgo Bioworks, Zymergen and others are building the foundations for an alternative pathway, where materials with the same qualities are made using biology and genetically modified bacteria, instead of emissions spewing, perennially polluting chemicals.


“Bio-based materials offer such a compelling alternative to traditionally petroleum based products,” says Manuel Waenke, the director of venture investments at FootPrint Coalition. “They have a lighter environmental footprint and offer the ability to design materials with novel functionalities open up a world of new possibilities.”


For Waenke, bio-based drop-in solutions (like BDO) that are chemically identical to commodity chemicals provide a lower barrier to switch for incumbents and can speed up adoption of more sustainable materials and practices.


It’s a space FootPrint Coalition is definitely interested in.


It’s what Genomatica is pursuing (woulda, coulda, shoulda). And what made the company so attractive to investors like Novo Holdings and Viking Global, despite its 21-year journey to commercialize its products (according to Crunchbase).


Genomatica is addressing the low-cost, commodity market materials at a scale and at competitive costs, to the traditional chemicals industry (the highly subsidized, incredibly well-established chemicals industry), according to Waenke.


“Sustainability is a must-have for consumers and is a business imperative for brands,” said Anders Bendsen Spohr, a senior partner at Novo Holdings, which led the latest round into Genomatica. “We see a massive opportunity for biological manufacturing to help industries meet the demand for sustainable products. Genomatica is creating more sustainable value chains with both a breadth of partnerships and products that it is executing on at commercial scales that can deliver the kinds of impact that today’s climate crisis requires.”

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