Synthetic biology is the application of engineering principles in biology to (re)design and fabricate microorganisms or biological pathways that do not already exist in the natural world. Cemvita Factory has developed an Industrial Strength Synbio platform; engineered microbes that can use flue-gas as their feedstock or tolerate the harsh environment of heavy industrial processes such as Oil and Gas and mining.
How can microorganisms be engineered for new capabilities?
Recent developments in synthetic biology (novel Artificial Intelligence, automation, and genetic engineering tools) have significantly reduced the cost and time for the modification of genes and enzymes of microbes allowing them to gain new capabilities, such as ethylene production or heavy metal removal.
Why is now a good time for Cemvita to commercialize synbio in heavy industries?
Energy Transition is upon us and the world needs sustainable solutions that are also economical. On the other hand, the cost of Synbio has dropped significantly in the last 10 years. The confluence of these two trends has allowed Cemvita Factory to unlock new applications for Synbio in the heavy industry.
How are regulations regarding genetically engineered microorganisms?
We are actively engaging with regulatory agencies (such as EPA) regarding the application of genetically engineered microbes. In some cases, since we are only enhancing the natural ability of microorganisms (for example by increasing the copy number of genes that already exist), the microbes are not considered genetically-modified. Regulatory assessment is included as a deliverable for our projects.
How can synthetic biology benefit the environment?
Synthetic Biology is nature-inspired which means the reactions occur under ambient pressure and temperature. This helps reduce the scope 1 emissions from energy-intensive chemical reactions. In other cases the microbes can replace chemicals that aren’t environmentally-friendly. Finally, certain microbes can use emissions as a feedstock for conversion to other useful molecules.
What is Cemvita Factory’s business model?
We have a flexible business model depending on the target application and market dynamics. An element of our business model is Microbes-as-a-Service. Initially we focus on the engineering of microbes and developing small-scale bioprocesses. We then choose the best business model to work with our clients and EPC of choice to scale up and commercialize our technology.
CARBON CAPTURE AND UTILIZATION
Do you need pure CO2 for the production process?
No. Our Industrial Strength Synbio microbes have demonstrated great tolerance with a wide range of CO2 concentrations in flue gas. As a datapoint, we have shown that our microbes can completely consume 40% of CO2 in flue gas within a 24-hour period.
Where do you supply the energy for CO2 utilization?
Since our process is more energy-efficient and works at ambient temperature and pressure, there is less demand for energy in general. The needed energy can be supplied from renewable sources, such as solar or wind energy.
What products can you make from CO2?
We have a list of more than 30 high-value commodity chemicals that can be made from CO2. Among them are plastic and polymer precursors, organic acids, and specialty chemicals. We can develop pathways for bespoke chemical production.
Are there any byproducts for your process?
Biological reactions are carried out by enzymes and are highly specific. Thus, there are less byproducts from the reaction. In some cases, the main byproduct is O2, and CO2 which is recycled.
What are the scale up challenges for your CO2 utilization process?
Due to the novelty of our platform, in some cases, we need to develop new photobioreactors to fully realize the potential of our engineered microbes. We are actively working with leading Engineering, Procurement, and construction (EPC) companies to build our proprietary photobioreactor. We expect to finalize the design of an industrial-scale photobioreactor within the next 1-2 years. In our portfolio of microorganisms, we also have non-photosynthetic microbes that can use CO2 as a feedstock and are able to use commercially available bioreactors for scale up.
How is your process compared to non-biological CO2 Utilization?
Non-biological CO2 utilization processes, such as electrochemical conversion of CO2, rely on catalysts to carry out the reaction. While the reaction might occur at ambient conditions, there are significant hurdles in increasing the selectivity and lifetime of the catalyst. Consequently, the electrochemical approach has lower TRL (Technology Readiness Level) than our Industrial Strength Synbio platform.
Will your CO2 utilization process integrate in a current facility or is it independent?
Our CO2 utilization process can be integrated into a current facility, for example flue gas sources from a cogeneration plant, steel mill, or steam cracker. In some cases, the flue gas can be directly delivered to the bacterial culture, or can be absorbed into a carbonate solution before delivery to the bioreactor.
SUBSURFACE CARBON UTILIZATION
What’s the advantage of subsurface carbon utilization as opposed to surface?
The subsurface provides energy in the form of recalcitrant hydrocarbons (carbon source) and the heat of the reservoir. This is a huge cost savings when compared to surface bioreactors.
What type of subsurface reservoirs are ideal for your process?
Temperature is the biggest consideration. Ideally should be <150F but can push upwards of ~170F.
How do you quantify the subsurface microbes that can be used in your process?
We recruit a combination of next-generation sequencing and DNA quantification methods, targeting 16s rRNA to both quantify and identify which microbes are present.
Do you need to inject engineered microbes in the subsurface?
For each use-case we investigate if the use of engineered microbes provides a benefit over the use of indigenous microbes. This is also dependent on the regulation of different countries.
How does the scale up process work for subsurface carbon utilization?
Each application needs to go through a series of phase gates and corresponding scale ups to determine feasibility. Start with “bottle tests -> core flood studies -> single well pilots -> field wide applications.
How can synthetic biology help the mining industry?
Mining industry has strong environmental impacts, especially in the excavation and extraction steps. By replacing high-carbon footprint materials (leaching acid, metal catalysts etc.) and processes with carbon-negative solutions, Cemvita can help our mining clients lessen these impacts and transit to a more sustainable model.
What are the key applications for biomining?
We are focused on two key areas: bioleaching and in-situ biomining. In bioleaching, we apply engineered microbes to significantly increase the leaching and recovery of metal from ore rocks. For in-situ bioming, by directly injecting microbes and media into the ore, we can directly extract the metal without excavating the rocks.
How does the scale up work for biomining?
Each application needs to go through a series of phase gates and corresponding scale ups to determine feasibility. Start with “bottle tests -> field simulation test -> pilots -> field wide applications.
Can your microbes survive the harsh environments?
Our biomining application starts by isolating the native microbes at the mining site. We then apply synthetic biology to create new functionality or to enhance their capabilities. Since these microbes are native to the mining site, they can survive and thrive in these harsh environments.
Is biomining economical?
As deposits of high quality ore are quickly diminished, the cost of extracting metal is becoming more expensive in addition to the negative environmental impact of traditional processes. Our Industrial Strength Synbio platform allows mining companies to increase extraction efficiency either by eliminating excavation and tailing steps (by in-situ biomining) or enhancing metal recovery using an environmental-friendly process (bioleaching). Taken together, this can significantly reduce the cost and environmental impact of the current mining industry.
What is the key application for biomanufacturing in space?
Cemvita Factory has developed an Industrial Strength Synbio platform to utilize the captured CO2 from the exhalation of astronauts, for conversion into food, such as carbohydrates, protein and fatty acid. This approach helps space exploration become self-sustainable, a critical factor for the success of future deep-space explorations.
What’s the source of CO2?
For deep space missions the CO2 sources can come from astronauts and equipment. On Mars the CO2 comes from the Martian atmosphere.
Can your microbes survive in space?
Our extremophile microbes have shown great tolerance with harsh environmental conditions - high temperature, pressure and toxicity - which are similar to space conditions. Also, by designing a close, self-contained system, we minimize the exposure of our microbes to the surrounding environment.
What about Mars?
Mars' atmosphere contains 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, and traces of oxygen, carbon monoxide, water, methane, and other gases. The high concentration of CO2 provides an unlimited feedstock for our microbes.
How can your space technology help us on earth?
Space technology has to be modular, low-maintenance, and efficiently use CO2 as the feedstock. These requirements help us improve our bioreactor design and optimize our microbe engineering on earth.
HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT?
We specialize in industrial-strength synthetic biology applied to decarbonization.
We focus on carbon-negative pathways that use CO2 or Methane as a feedstock.
We have a special focus on growing, optimizing, and utilizing a portfolio of non-model microorganisms including extremophiles with industrial applications.
We help our clients scale up bioprocesses from lab to 1000X scale.