The factories of old — a technological wave that swept in with the Industrial Revolution — these were inorganic manufacturing centers, and they are now the wave of the past.
They used a suite of lifeless fossil ingredients and mechanical, lifeless manufacturing techniques. They might have been made fast through computers, sensors and robotics, but they were not alive. Products were made, not grown.
But today a wave of companies have taken something important from agriculture — the concept of growing something useful by using life itself — using biology. And they are introducing a wave of organic manufacturing that is now just beginning to take shape.
The change may not yet be obvious. Companies are still putting steel in the ground, and using advanced robotics and analytics to add speed and value to the old ways. But the change is underway — consider in the far future that everything about manufacturing will be living, from life, organic. The inputs, the processes, the very walls of the feremnters themselves and every system in the plant.
Out with the old, in with the new
Out with the old inorganic feedstocks like coal, oil and gas. In with the new feedsocks like woods, grasses, fibers and sugars. Out with the old inorganic catalysts, and in with the new ones like enzymes. Out with the old digital sensors and in with new skin-like sensors based on the way organisms sense light, heat, sound, pressure, velocity and more. Out with the old manufacturing trains made with steel, glass and plastic, and in with new organic materials with better functional properties and physical flexibility. Out with the old inorganic multi-step, anallog chemical transformations, and in with one-step transformations achieved by a new generation of designer microorganisms.
Based in microbes, the new organic manufacturing offers the promise of a billion manufacturing sites in a teaspoon — rolled up into giant industrial symbiosis that is sustainable, affordable, and reliable and can be adjusted to account for new innovation not with costly hardware retrofits but with simple isoftware upgrades.
The Step-Change that demonstrates the trend: Gingko’s BioWorks2
A step change in that transition arrived this morning with news that Ginkgo BioWorks announced the launch of their next generation foundry, Bioworks2. With t25,000 square feet and at least 6X expected increase in capacity compatred to BioWorks 1, Bioworks2 represents a step change in what is possible for organism design. The company, which has raised a monstrous amount of money in the past 18 months, is strategically focused on using biology to make an impact in markets including flavors and fragrance, cosmetics and personal care, and food and nutrition.
“Ginkgo’s foundries bring tremendous capability to accelerate organism engineering and complement our strengths in whole-process design, computation, and manufacturing scale-up,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica.
As Gingko itself notes, “biology is the most advanced manufacturing technology on the planet. Self-assembling, self-replicating, and self-repairing, biology builds renewably—from the molecular machines inside of cells to global ecosystems.
What is a bio-foundry?
In biological engineering, living organisms are the factories that build new products. Designing the best organisms requires a different sort of factory, one where the best tools in automation, analytics, and software can all work in sync. Bioworks1 was the world’s first organism foundry, where engineers are prototyping thousands of biological designs.
And so, Ginkgo Bioworks designs custom microbes for customers across multiple markets. The foundries are used to scale the process of organism engineering using software and hardware automation.
A new alliance with Genomatica
Also this week, Ginkgo Bioworks and Genomatica have allied to more rapidly deliver biology-based solutions for the world’s highest-volume intermediate and specialty chemicals.
The alliance aims to accelerate the transition of the mainstream chemical industry to biological process technology. Bio-based production of intermediate chemicals can deliver better overall economics and greater sustainability and performance by harnessing the power of biotechnology and microorganism engineering to grow products. Only a few dozen chemicals at the heart of the mainstream industry, with markets up to millions of tons and many billions of dollars each, are used to make the thousands of everyday products that fill our homes, stores and offices. Bringing together a full stack of best-in-class capabilities with clear industry leadership, the alliance provides a compelling new reason for mainstream chemical firms to explore and adopt these new biological technologies.
“The combination of our technologies will allow us to more rapidly extend the benefits of biotech into many high-volume markets,” said Jason Kelly, CEO, Ginkgo Bioworks. “Genomatica is the perfect ally to help bring the power of our foundries to mainstream chemical markets. Genomatica is proven at high-yield bio-based processes, which is essential for widespread deployment of cost-effective technology to produce major-market chemicals.”
Mainstream chemical producers can now in-license technology to manufacture their widely-used chemicals with cost-effective and sustainable whole-process solutions that include engineered microorganisms, complete process designs and technology transfer support. The alliance is structured as a deep collaboration, with two-way sharing of technology and intellectual property, along with joint technology development, to provide a single unified offering to the market.
“This alliance should be a welcome and familiar approach to anyone in the chemical industry,” said Carlos A. Cabrera, Executive Chairman, Genomatica, and the former CEO of UOP. “The potential of biology to impact our industry is substantial and rapidly evolving. Genomatica and Ginkgo now make it practical and feasible for existing and new industry participants to access, license, and deploy cost effective and innovative biotechnology.”
Gingko’s strategic partnership with Amyris
In June, Amyris entered into an Initial Strategic Partnership Agreement with Ginkgo Bioworks to accelerate commercialization of bio-based ingredients and establish clear leadership in industrial biotechnology with a combined offering. As part of the deal, Ginkgo Bioworks will expand Amyris’ strain engineering capability via access to its world-class foundry; Amyris will be responsible for bringing products to scale. Together, the two companies have a portfolio of more than 70 products under contract for delivery to the world’s leading brands across industrial, health and personal care markets. Together, the two companies expect to deliver more than 20 new products over the next three years.
The Bottom Line
A journey of a hundred years begins with a handful of steps — the steps we see companies like Gingko, Amyris, Genomatica and others such as Zymergen, Caribou Biosystems, Gen9, and Arzeda are taking this year.
Look a little down the road beyond the innovations of today, and imagine the logical consequence.
Today, our intelligence allows us to parrot and manipulate an organism with the complexity of a microbe. Eventually, we will have the sophistication to design, build and operate factories that work like animals — complex worls of inputs, outputs, sensors, barriers, analytics, waste recovery, separation, and dare we say intelligence. When the factory and the animal converge, you will know that we are there.