Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Circe Bioscience

Supercharged microbes clean up manufacturing


The advanced fermentation technique turns CO2 into useful molecules

Spotted: Manufacturing is responsible for a fifth of the world’s total carbon emissions and consumes over half of our energy sources. For us to stay on track for net zero, we need to rethink the way we produce the world’s most popular and important products. Enter Circe Bioscience. 

The female-co-founded startup, which was spun out of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, has created a novel bioproduction system that uses specially engineered microbes to manufacture molecules. These molecules form the basis of sugars, fats, biodegradable plastics, and biofuels that are used in industries from cooking oil to aviation fuel.

In a special fermentation process, Circe feeds CO2 to microbes within a bioreactor – a controlled environment where the microbes can flourish and produce other molecules from the CO2 gas. The only other inputs needed are water and electricity. Using various processes, the final molecules are then separated from the culture medium to be refined so they can be used as intended. The company’s initial focus is on triglycerides for food. 

According to Shannon Nangle, PhD, who is a cofounder of Circe, “One of the great challenges humanity faces is how to maintain global growth and production and decarbonize everything at the same time. Circe is addressing this critical problem by using gas fermentation to manufacture the products and molecules we need in a carbon-negative way”.

To date, Circe has raised over $8 million from various investors, with players such as Regen Ventures, Undeterred Capital, Ponderosa Ventures, Bee Partners, and Elementum Ventures leading the charge. The company has also just signed a licensing agreement coordinated by Harvard’s Office of Technology Development so that the technology can be commercialised. 

Circe isn’t alone in using biotech to make traditional manufacturing much greener. One company is using it to turn ‘zombie’ cells into nylon, while another uses microbes to make cleaner fabric dyes

Written By: Fabian Raemy and Matilda Cox



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