Genomatica to Churn Out Green Chemical With Bugs

Green chemistry startup Genomatica said this morning it has successfully produced a commonly used chemical in plastics and rubber products using sugar instead of petroleum. The chemical is called “1,4‐butanediol,” or BDO for short. Genomatica uses an engineered microorganism to convert sugar into BDO to produce a 100 percent renewable chemical. And the company says it’s the first to publish evidence that a microorganism can produce BDO.

Genomatica, which was founded in 2000 and is backed by Mohr Davidow, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Alloy Ventures and Iceland Genomic Ventures, first started producing its green BDO back in February. Since then, it says it has increased the productivity of its generation by 1,000-fold, and has managed to engineer the organism to survive in the high BDO concentrations needed to produce a whole lot of the chemical. That means it’ll be ready to start scaling up to the volumes needed to compete in the chemical industry.

BDO is used in everyday plastics, rubbers and fibers, many of which need to withstand rugged conditions at high heats. Genomatica CEO Christopher Gann says that its green BDO can be used in any products that traditionally used BDO, such as spandex, airbags and textiles. The sugar-derived BDO molecule is “identical” to a petroleum-based BDO, Gann says. Genomatica plans to license its technology to chemical companies, sugar producers and manufacturers that use BDO, and the company hopes to sign its first major licensing deal in 2009. Gann joined the Genomatica team earlier this year after spending 27 years at Dow Chemical.

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