Synonym publishes analysis of global trends in biomanufacturing production capacity
Ahead of the State of Global Fermentation Capacity report being published by Synonym Biotechnologies, the company's Co-founder & Chief Business Officer, Joshua Lachter, sat down with us to highlight some of the key takeaways from the extensive analysis
Synonym Biotechnologies’ Joshua Lachter is a firm believer in the power of biology to solve a lot of the problems we see in the world today.
“We need a new paradigm for how we make stuff and biology represents the oldest form that we know of,” suggests the company’s Co-founder & Chief Business Officer.
“Biology has been doing it longer than any force we know of in the universe, and it’s figured out some pretty cool stuff along the way.”
For Lachter, raising a chick into a chicken to make an egg to then include as an ingredient in a final product seems “at the very least inelegant”.
For those who don’t know, Synonym is the financing and development platform for biomanufacturing infrastructure, not just for food but also for materials and everyone else using fermentation. It is Lachter’s opinion that the industry simply doesn’t have enough infrastructure right now.
“Our solution is to show that the means of production can be separated from the companies that are actually producing profits in those facilities,” he explains. “If you can begin to standardize what those facilities look like, you can tap into a financing mechanism that hasn’t been available to this industry before. And that’s our overall goal. We work with synbio companies to get them the capacity that they need.”
Lachter goes on to suggest that in much the same way that a startup internet company building its own servers is a terrible idea, it’s a challenge to say the least to build infrastructure for biomanufacturing. “It’s hard to go through the engineering, design, and permitting,” he says. “And at the end of it all, a single company would have one facility where any given company would need several over time, so I think it’s clear that a third way is necessary and we want to represent that third way.”
When asked what inspired him in this space, Lachter confesses it was the “purity” of the medium. That said, it remains only a pipe dream to have these products ubiquitous until you can solve for scale. “We have to build this infrastructure very quickly and it needs to be a really sound financial investment and so that’s what we’re trying to do,” he continues.
Synonym has just published a new report entitled the State of Global Fermentation Capacity, the first publicly available analysis of the current state of fermentation capacity worldwide. It offers a detailed view into microbial fermentation facilities by geography, scale, bioreactor size, product expertise, and more. The report is based on data collected from Capacitor.bio – a free database of biomanufacturing facilities worldwide. As we have previously reported, Capacitor was launched by Synonym last year to help synbio companies find available production facilities.
“With thousands of registered users, 150 facilities and +20 required specifications per facility, we’ve sifted through all the Capacitor data to identify the latest trends in supply and demand for fermentation capacity,” Lachter reveals. “There’s lots of good information in the report.”
So, what can we glean from this new analysis of the state of play? Firstly, there’s a great variety of industry sectors searching for fermentation capacity, and more than half are located outside North America. Lachter informs us that those searching for capacity aren’t just synbio companies but non-profits, consultancies, large food corporations, government, and financial institutions.
Secondly, the world does have fermentation capacity, but nearly all of it is smaller scale. Total capacity in the Capacitor database totals more than 30 million liters, and many of the facilities are bench and pilot scale that have bioreactors smaller than 20,000 liters.
“People are searching for larger-scale facilities and not finding them,” says Lachter, revealing another key takeaway from the report. “One of the most popular filters is ‘Size of Bioreactors’ and many searches are for bioreactors larger than 20,000 liters. Fewer than 20% of the facilities listed in Capacitor have bioreactors greater than 20,000 liters, which underscores the clear demand for larger-scale facilities and bioreactors.”
Clearly this needs to change if the world is to realize the full potential of this advancing technique. The world is waking up to the potential of biomanufacturing, Lachter believes, so the race is on to build a sustainable bioeconomy. “Every day we’re seeing new technological advances and the array of new bioproducts on the horizon is mesmerizing,” he says.
We are reading – or in our case writing – about new advancements almost every day and that gives Lachter confidence that biology can be utilized to produce the things we consume — from the food we eat to the materials we use to the energy powering our world.
Highlighting a few examples, he notes Spiber, which is making an alternative form of spider silk that’s lighter in weight and seven times tougher than the aramid fibers used in bullet-proof vests. He also points to The EVERY Company making egg protein without any actual chickens, Synthetic Genomics using saltwater algae to make sustainable fuel for cars, and LanzaTech recycling carbon from industrial emissions and making it into aviation fuel.
“It’s an exciting time in biomanufacturing and we’re here to build the infrastructure needed to help all the product innovators scale their production to meet consumer demand,” Lachter adds.
“Many of the trends we’re seeing are highlighted in our report,” Lachter says. “In addition to these, we’re also seeing governments around the world stepping up to invest in biomanufacturing. Last year, the Biden Administration signed an Executive Order establishing the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative and committing US$2 billion in investment into the sector.
“Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration announced it approved lab-grown poultry from UPSIDE Foods as safe for human consumption. This is a crucial first step in making food grown from cultured animal cells available to consumers and will open the door for the development of additional food proteins in the future.
“Finally, investments into scaling bioproducts are growing. In the past decade, nearly US$40 billion was invested into the industry. Now, all of these companies will need to scale production and we’ve seen several announcements in recent months about plans for new fermentation facilities.”
However, faced with a shortfall of large-scale capacity, companies contemplate building their own, although Lachter says building these facilities is a “daunting” undertaking. “To do any of it, companies need to tap hundreds of millions of dollars of outside capital for facility design and construction,” he says. “Raising that money in the current macroeconomic environment is tough. Having seen some high-profile facility failures, investors are understandably concerned about financing such ambitious facilities for a single company.”
Ultimately, though, Lachter envisions a market where companies have the chance to get their products to market without having to build their own facilities. “These facilities should be a part of the biomanufacturing infrastructure asset class – modular, reusable, and upgradable assets financed by patient sources of infrastructure capital.”
Governments, in partnership with the private sector, will also play an important role in the advancement of biomanufacturing and Lachter is encouraged by what we’ve seen thus far. “In the USA, the federal government is showing strong support for biomanufacturing. We saw this in the White House Executive Order on biomanufacturing and the follow-on report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Both underscore the strategic importance of biomanufacturing here in the USA and also abroad.”
And as biology becomes the default mode of production, it will become a platform for decarbonization, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and more job opportunities. “We can’t realize our biological future without scaled biomanufacturing capacity,” Lachter says. “We believe that the public and private sectors must work in partnership to scale up biomanufacturing. But we’re very excited to work with our partners in government to accelerate the growth of biomanufacturing.”
Innovative food processing solutions, such as fermentation, will be critical to addressing the world's growing food insecurity issues and are desperately needed. The fragilities of our existing food system are constantly under the spotlight, but most recently have been laid bare by avian flu sweeping across chicken populations. For the first time since US Bureau of Labor started publishing data in 1980, the cost of 12 eggs has surpassed the cost of a pound of beef. “Fermentation represents a mature platform that can immediately begin to supplement or replace crucial legs of our food system,” concludes Lachter, before cautioning “if it’s able to achieve commercial lift off through scaling production”.
And let’s not forget, we are only really at the beginning of this journey. In 2020, the management consulting firm, McKinsey, estimated the bio-manufacturing industry could grow to US$4 trillion a year globally over the next 10 to 20 years. To get there, though, businesses need more support to scale up their production to get items on shelves at affordable prices. Lachter is adamant that we will get there, however. And innovation will play a huge role. He predicts we’ll continue to see improvements in the base equipment – bioreactor design, filtration, automation and a variety of technical improvements that together will improve yields and reduce costs for these products.
You can download the free State of Global Fermentation Capacity report here
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