San Diego’s Genomatica Scales Up Bio-Based Technology in Michigan Demo

Genomatica says it has successfully scaled up technology that uses genetically engineered microbes to make 1,4-butanediol (BDO)—a solvent and industrial chemical usually made from crude oil or natural gas.

The San Diego company, which touts itself as a leader in the “sustainable chemicals revolution,” worked with an industrial biotechnology partner in Lansing, MI, to make multiple batches of BDO—a chemical used to make automotive plastics, running shoes, and Spandex fibers.

The venture-backed company founded in 2000 is using biotechnology and renewable raw materials to eliminate energy-intensive industrial processes and petrochemicals in making the key intermediate chemical. The fermentation process also reduces production of greenhouse gases. In validating its technology, Genomatica says it is catalyzing a revolution in the petrochemical industry as it expands its development process to include other “high-value” chemicals with large existing markets.

Fermentation Tanks at MBI

Fermentation Tanks at MBI

Genomatica estimates the global market for BDO at $3 billion, with about half of BDO used in an acid-catalyzed process to make a precursor used in the production of Spandex.

The pilot-scale work shows “the magnificence of our technology platform,” Genomatica’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Burk told me in a recent telephone interview. “We have validated the process—the overall process that uses our platform technology to determine a path for genetically engineering an organism to produce BDO, as well as the industrial process for recovering, separating, and purifying BDO,” said Burk.

The pilot plant testing was done at MBI, a facility that operates as a non-profit subsidiary of the Michigan State University Foundation, and which … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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