Innovation That Matters

Solugen produces molecules from bio-based feedstock, which can then be used in products like detergent | Photo source Louis Reed on Unsplash

Carbon-negative chemicals for everyday life

Agriculture & Energy

A startup is using genetically engineered enzymes to manufacture non-toxic chemicals without the use of any fossil fuels

Spotted: Synthetic biology is a new branch of biology that uses a combination of genetic engineering, biochemistry, and molecular biology to create new artificial biological systems and organisms. In addition to revolutionising genetic engineering, synthetic biology is also helping to reduce carbon emissions. Startup Solugen Bio is one of the companies utilising synthetic biology, in this case to manufacture chemical-based products using bio-based feedstock instead of fossil fuels.

Solugen Bio uses artificial intelligence (AI) to engineer enzymes and metal catalysts that, in turn, allow the production of molecules at room temperature using bio-based feedstocks, with no toxins and no waste. The company’s ‘Bioforge’ uses feedstocks composed of corn syrup and deionized water. This is pumped into the enzyme reactor, where specially engineered enzymes convert the feedstock to the desired molecules. This produces an ‘intermediate product’ which is then mixed with compressed air and flowed over the company’s engineered metal catalysts. This transforms the compound again into the final product. Once the excess water has been removed, this becomes either a liquid concentrate or a solid ready for shipping. The entire process is also powered using 100 per cent wind-powered electricity, which the company claims is 10 times more efficient than creating steam by burning natural gas.

The company claims that its process can achieve greater than a 90 per cent overall conversion of feedstock to product. Solugen also states that “the entire process generates zero wastewater or air emissions. An interconnected closed drain system allows all of the material we produce to be continuously collected and reworked without generating byproducts or slowing down operations.”

Green chemicals are not the only exciting use for synthetic biology. Springwise has also spotted innovative uses for this technology that include lab-grown, bio-based drugs for use in mental health care and a customised biofertiliser that can be manufactured on-site.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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