Synthetic biology shows potential as an alternative production method for chemicals

Mike Edwards   


Technology limitations, as well as the real and perceived ill-effects of traditional petrochemical synthesis, have led to alternative models of chemical production, including synthetic biology (synbio).

Synbio has enabled the creation of organisms that use fermentation to produce a wide variety of chemicals from renewable feedstock, which Lux predicts in its new report, “Strategies for Synbio Success,” will evolve this decade from creating niche, environmentally friendly products to creating new molecules not available with current technology.

“Synbio will propel companies that understand the right strategy for the distinct value propositions it offers at each step in the production life cycle” says Lux analyst Gihan Hewage. “Companies with products in the ideation and early development stages will differentiate most from flexible production and the ability to create novel products, whereas products in later stages of development can leverage the environmental and marketing benefits of the technology.”

Synbio value propositions apply across all industries, but for chemical production, the environmental benefits of reducing one’s carbon footprint and using less-toxic compounds are the most applicable.

Companies can use synbio to create novel, niche products, but Lux cautions that these products are best utilized in specialty applications because challenges with scale and market developments have led to numerous failures when trying to use fermentation capabilities to produce new products for commodities. Instead, Lux recommends using synbio for the creation of specialty chemicals, where numerous value propositions, including the rarely applicable cost savings, are used in commercialized developments.

Synbio works well when creating naturally occurring products because these require less gene development to produce the desired chemical. Current synbio capabilities pose challenges when producing a non-naturally occurring chemical that requires extensive genetic modification to create, or an inorganic compound that cannot be made from a carbon-containing feedstock.

“Developers will struggle to use inputs like plastic waste or agricultural residues for fermentation because commonly used microbes often cannot metabolize these feedstocks. We’re still at least a decade off from engineering microbes that can create any chemical on demand, but the use cases where synbio capabilities are effective pose strong opportunities today,” Hewage explains.

For more information, download and read the executive summary of the Lux Research report.


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