How to develop a CO2-neutral bioprocess


Co-founder COLIPI GmbH, Hamburg, Germany


The global bioeconomy is on the rise: Worldwide, dozens of start-ups (such as COLIPI, Mushlabs, Insempra, Holiferm or MicroHarvest) in the field of fermentation aim to revolutionise markets and ways of manufacturing. This offers the unique chance to replace several common chemical commodities and other products with more sustainable options, claiming that compounds produced by fermentation have a less harmful impact on the environment than current production practices. But is this really the case? Are bioprocesses indeed better than conventional (petro)chemical processes or products obtained from agricultural resources? These questions will be briefly evaluated in this contribution. In this context, particular emphasis is placed on the carbon footprint of industrial fermentation processes. Moreover, it will be outlined, from a start-up perspective, which main challenges arise in the early-stage development of bioprocesses that are economically and technically feasible at large scale but also offer advantages regarding their environmental impact. Finally, suggestions will be made on how these challenges can be tackled.

The fossil-based economy is transitioning into a sustainable bioeconomy. Start-ups play a vital role in this game-changing transformation: they foster the industry by closing the gap between research and application and transfer scientific innovation and new technologies into next-level products, processes and services. Accordingly, bioprocesses that use living cells or enzymes might play a crucial role in future manufacturing systems. In the past, bioprocesses were economically viable when they fulfilled one of the following primary two criteria: first, the product, which might be chemically highly complex, could not be produced effectively by purely chemical synthesis and was not broadly available in the desired quality or quantity from natural resources. Second, the bioprocess enabled manufacturing at lower costs or with higher product purity than conventional methods. Good examples for fulfilling these criteria can mainly be found in the red biotechnology sector. For instance, the human proteohormone insulin can be isolated from the human pancreas, but the obtainable amount is insufficient to meet the global market demand ...