Exclusive interview

"The shift to natural takes real technology, expertise, investment, and commitment", Genomatica says

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

"The shift to natural takes real technology, expertise, investment, and commitment", Genomatica says
Biobased process technologies provider, Genomatica, explains its strategic decision to focus on natural products and supportive technologies over petrochemical alternatives.

Bioengineering company’s recent $90 million financing deal​ will see it speed up its development of technologies for more sustainable, everyday products.

Following its decision, Damien Perriman, the Senior Vice President of Specialty Chemicals at Genomatica spoke to Cosmetics Design on how it will advance and accelerate the production of more sustainable products and processes; ingredients made from petrochemicals with naturally-sourced, more sustainable alternatives; and increase the supply of its Brontide butylene glycol. 

1. How crucial is growing the sustainable product and processes market for Genomatica as part of its wider strategy?

Genomatica is focused on leading a transition to more sustainable products and a more circular economy. We’re serious about it. This is our company’s core purpose, and you will see it on the back of everyone’s business cards.

But to be clear, we not turning up with a strategy to grow the market. Today’s major brands and consumers are already demanding more sustainable products. At Genomatica, we see our role as meeting this demand with ingredients that are produced sustainably from renewable sources and offer superior quality and safety.

2. What has inspired this focus?

The last few words in our core purpose say it all – to make the world a better place. Sustainability is not only the main focus of Genomatica, it’s embedded in our culture. The people that work at Genomatica are drawn to the company because they genuinely want to make a difference. Those words bubbled up from our team many years ago when we started asking what we believe in, and they still unite us in purpose today.

Plans for the personal care industry 

3. What types of production and greater product samples will you invest in?

We’re already producing commercial quantities sufficient for initial market sampling, product development and supporting early adopters, such as Bio-Botanica, who see the benefits of offering Brontideä to their market first. Today, over 200 companies are testing Brontide, and we expect demand to continue to grow.

4. What timeframe do you anticipate for natural butylene glycol on a commercial scale to outcompete petrochemical technologies?

Today, Genomatica’s fermentation process for producing naturally-sourced butylene glycol outcompetes petroleum-based alternatives on many levels. Brontide offers the same performance as petroleum-based glycol while delivering better quality. Brontide is the only butylene glycol that contains no harmful heavy metals, like lead or arsenic, or toxic intermediates.

In addition, Genomatica’s unique fermentation process reduces global warming contribution by nearly 50% compared to petroleum-based butylene production. Nearly 50% of the energy used in Genomatica’s fermentation process is from renewable resources compared with less than 2% for petroleum-based butylene glycol production.

5. How do you plan to accelerate the rollout of Brontide globally? 

Genomatica will accelerate the rollout of Brontide globally by establishing a global network of distributors and marketers that will be fueled by Genomatica’s commitment to educating the market, branding the product, and providing technical support – to help formulators learn the best ways to use glycols. We’ve announced partner relationships with Daicel, Azelis and Bio-Botanica and currently have others in the works.

6. What fermentation processes are you engaging in?

Brontide is manufactured through an innovative process that uses renewable, plant-derived glucose instead of petroleum-based feedstocks. In this process, glucose is converted to 1,3 butylene glycol via fermentation by microorganisms in a controlled system. This innovative approach has high appeal in personal care applications where demand for natural ingredients is growing.

7. How integral is an industry-wide push from petrochemical technologies to natural alternatives?

There are multiple forces pushing toward naturally-sourced and more sustainable ingredients. Consumers, with millennials in the lead, understand the benefits of using more natural products. Today’s consumers are actively looking for healthier products, which are also good for the environment, and reflect their values. They’re voting with their wallets. Major cosmetic and personal care brands are also seeing these buying patterns, and many are responding to it if not leading the charge.

Still, most of the common ingredients found in today’s products are made from petrochemicals. This poses a big challenge for ingredient producers looking to make a change. Petrochemicals are what they know. The shift to natural takes real technology, expertise, investment, and commitment – and Genomatica is one of the firms leading the technology to help make this shift a reality.

8. What are the main challenges to overcome? 

For Genomatica, building an investment case focused mostly on validating market demand, and we’ve already demonstrated we could commercialize an even tougher target chemical, 1,4-BDO. Because of our proven technology and scale-up experience, prospective Brontide partners and customers were confident we could deliver at scale. 

These previous successes enabled Genomatica to close $90 million in financing, allowing us:

- To invest in faster ramp-up of production and greater product supplies

- To produce natural butylene glycol on a commercial scale – to outcompete petrochemical technologies

- To accelerate the global rollout of its naturally-sourced, sustainably-produced butylene glycol (Brontide)

- To develop new fermentation processes – to produce ingredients that are produced sustainably from renewable sources and offer superior quality and safety

9. What can you see as the short and long-term implications of gearing personal care formulation production towards the naturals market over its petrochemical counterpart?

In the short term, we see the availability of Brontide and other naturally-sourced ingredients as helping to get companies and people to really think about their choices. They’ll realise there are options; we’ll help them learn about them, and they’ll decide which products fit their needs.

Long-term, we feel a shift to natural ingredients in personal care is inevitable. Today’s natural trends are affecting a number of markets, and forecasts predict these trends will continue to gain momentum in the future. In the energy market, many countries moved from coal to oil, and from natural gas to an increasing percentage of renewables. In the beverage industry, milk became pasteurised, and vitamin D was added.

The personal care market is no different. Today’s consumers are able to quickly educate themselves about the ingredients in their products, and they are especially concerned about those that come in direct contact with their skin. For the personal care market, this means the natural trend is more than a fleeting fad. Rather, it’s a product benefit that consumers will not only continue to demand but expect in the future.

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