Each Biomaterial Must be Considered on a Case-by-Case Basis

When cutting-edge technology is applied to fruit waste it creates an all-new world of revolutionary, premium biomaterials — where performance meets possibility. The technology, modelled on nature’s own design, aims for an animal-free, more sustainable future — one cell at a time. And doing this is Mexico-headquartered Polybion as it moves from linear to circular, leftover to constructive, and from leather to Celium. texfash.com talks to Gabriela Irastorza Dragonné, the Head of Communications and Culture at Polybion to know more.The first part of an interview.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Bio metamaterials are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know.
  • Alternative leathers will displace cowhide leathers and synthetic leathers.
  • The Polybion USP is that it uses agro industrial fruitwaste as raw material, and the fact that it uses bacteria instead of mycelium
Polybion defines novel materials as "bio metamaterials," which are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know. By introducing bio metamaterials to the market, it hopes to reach industries like the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare industry and pretty much any industry to offer sustainable solutions to manufacturing processes.
What Next Polybion defines novel materials as "bio metamaterials," which are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know. By introducing bio metamaterials to the market, it hopes to reach industries like the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare industry and pretty much any industry to offer sustainable solutions to manufacturing processes. Polybion

Let's start from the beginning. When did Polybion start? What was the inspiration that led to this engineering with biology?
Polybion starts with the story of two Mexican brothers, Axel and Alexis. Their mother is a chemist pharmacologist, and their father, a biochemical engineer and entrepreneur. The Gómez Ortigoza brothers grew in awe of how life, nature, and the universe worked from  
very young age.

In 2014, while participating in a Synthetic Biology competition at MIT, Axel came across a mushroom biomaterial. He saw its potential and then mentioned it to Alexis. They took the idea to their friend Bárbara, who as a material scientist, immediately shared their vision and the three decided right then over coffee to start a company to biofabricate mushroom material (which we are no longer producing since we decided to focus on bacterial cellulose since 2019).

How many years did the R&D take? What was the initial investment like?
The initial R&D took almost two years, from 2014 to 2016. Axel started working in a tiny space in his mother's laboratory. In the meantime, Bárbara introduced the GO brothers to a government innovation grant. Unfortunately, the first interested investors backed down five days before the deadline, so Alexis decided to put his life savings on both brothers' behalf. Bárbara set the missing part, and the three founded a new company in only five days. Polybion survived for at least four years out of awards, prices, and government grants.

How do you see the future of biomaterials? What are the hurdles that could impediment their growth?
We’ve used leather, silk, wool, fur, down, and exotic fur for centuries. Unfortunately, these animal-derived materials present environmental and ethical challenges, which are increasingly pressing problems for the human population. Later, the invention of synthetics in the 20th century allowed inexpensive petroleum-derived alternatives to animal-derived materials: polyurethane, PVC, polyester, acrylic, and more. Unfortunately, these alternatives are also unsustainable and ethically worrisome. But, today, the bio revolution brings a new crop of scientists, artists, and innovators pioneering next-generation biomaterials. These innovations are high-performance, animal-free, and more sustainable. This is the next generation of our economy. In a few words, new biological ways of making and processing materials, chemicals, and energy will transform many industries and our daily lives. In Polybion, we are constantly innovating to find new and better solutions.

The next-generation biomaterials are here now, scaling and reaching every market and human being, but what comes next?
New experiments include innovations related to the production of materials such as improved fermentation processes, new bio routes utilising the ability to edit the DNA of microbes to develop novel materials with entirely new properties, and building on advances in biofuels to innovate new forms of energy storage. Jose Manuel Aguilar, Polybion’s Chief Scientific Officer, defines novel materials as "bio metamaterials," which are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know.

By introducing bio metamaterials to the market, we will be able to reach industries like the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare industry and pretty much any industry to offer sustainable solutions to manufacturing processes.

The bio revolution brings a new crop of scientists, artists, and innovators pioneering next-generation biomaterials. These innovations are high-performance, animal-free, and more sustainable. This is the next generation of our economy. In a few words, new biological ways of making and processing materials, chemicals, and energy will transform many industries and our daily lives. Polybion is constantly innovating to find new and better solutions.
the Bio revolution The bio revolution brings a new crop of scientists, artists, and innovators pioneering next-generation biomaterials. These innovations are high-performance, animal-free, and more sustainable. This is the next generation of our economy. In a few words, new biological ways of making and processing materials, chemicals, and energy will transform many industries and our daily lives. Polybion is constantly innovating to find new and better solutions. Polybion

An allegation against some of these materials is that they are not entirely biodegradable, that there is some process in between that renders it not-so-natural. How much truth in that?
The word ‘biomaterial’ masks different approaches, contributions and technological impacts. Each biomaterial must be considered on a case-by-case basis with respect to its production process, manufacture, function and impact. Some can be upcycled, some recycled, some compostable, some biodegradable. And biodegradability processes vary as well. So it’s hard to answer this question as a true or false one.

How does the supply chain work? Where do you source the waste from? What is your manufacturing capacity like?
Our entire production process concentrates within a 30-mile radius. We obtain our raw material, agro-industrial food waste, from local industries. Our cell-based biotextile grows within the same biomanufacturing plant, and we carry out the stabilisation process under the same roof. We hold the ultralocality imperative since it allows us to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint that usually derives from the entire biomaterial production process; from acquiring the raw material to having an available product.

This policy enables us to stay in charge and close communication about the production process, leading to fewer business risks and quality control, helping us reduce waste and optimise production. It also allows us to eliminate hold-ups in customs and delays with overseas shipments. Something that COVID has proven to be crucial for the rest of the century.

In Polybion, we are also conscious of the social risks of producing overseas. Therefore, we stay observant of risk assessment, health and safety checks of those participating within the production chain by sticking to this production policy. Furthermore, by being more present and understanding, we emphasise workers' well-being. Ultralocality in our production cycle ensures sustainability, planetary health improvement, and a positive social impact by creating new revenue streams for small and big producers of local food waste.

Polybion expects to reach the maximum production capacity of Celium per year by the third quarter of 2023.  At maximum capacity, Polybion’s solar-powered, industrial-scale bacterial cellulose manufacturing facility will produce 1.1 million square feet per year of the company’s proprietary biotextile Celium.

Polybion is conscious of the social risks of producing overseas and is therefore observant of risk assessment, health and safety checks of those participating within the production chain by sticking to its production policy. Furthermore, by being more present and understanding, it emphasises workers' well-being. Ultralocality in its production cycle ensures sustainability, planetary health improvement, & a positive social impact by creating new revenue streams for small & big producers of local food waste.
Social Risks Polybion is conscious of the social risks of producing overseas and is therefore observant of risk assessment, health and safety checks of those participating within the production chain by sticking to its production policy. Furthermore, by being more present and understanding, it emphasises workers' well-being. Ultralocality in its production cycle ensures sustainability, planetary health improvement, and a positive social impact by creating new revenue streams for small and big producers of local food waste. Polybion

There are quite a few players stepping into the business of manufacturing biomaterials. How does Polybion view the competition? What is the Polybion USP?
Our battles are not centred on what others might consider our “competition” (other companies similar to ours); in fact, we believe that healthy competition is necessary as a means to continue advancing, giving feedback, and collaborating. The bio revolution requires the involvement of many actors and companies in order to happen. It is necessary to create an environment of synergy between companies that think similarly and act accordingly. When you are creating a new category you need a lot of help, even from competitors. In that sense we disapprove of unfair competition and deceptive competition practices, such as stealing information or direct copy of other’s work. But we believe that the beauty and the power of competition rely on improving others' work, not simply replicating. As Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Our USP is using agro industrial fruitwaste as raw material, and the fact that we use bacteria instead of mycellium; bacteria have simpler genomes and are easier to genetically engineer than fungi. And taking nature’s lead, cellulose is the most abundant (and perhaps versatile) polymer on the planet; so with bacteria producing it, the potential for scalable, modular, and high-yielding biomaterials is immense.

Bio metamaterials is the future of biomaterials, says your website. Could you expand on that with examples?
Bio metamaterials are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know. Although, for example, the exoskeleton of insects is made of chitin, and the cell wall of plants is made of cellulose, these new technologies suggest combinations of these materials can be generated, complex networks of mixed polymers such as cellulose and chitin. All of these are materials that would not exist as such and therefore have unique and unexpected properties leading to expanding the possibilities for its application. Materials previously used for certain processes or uses can now be much more versatile, even for the same applications as before but using materials with better performance or expand the shelf life of a product.

Another example to understand this is, if we have a polymer that was not permeable to water before, or that was not flexible before, now incorporating elements of nature that are not normally found together combined with the biofabrication of metamaterials, we can include, integrate, and create with the pieces that already exist. So, for example, we combine genes from one organism into another to combine their properties.

It is like taking pieces of legos that are in different buckets, and each bucket of legos is an organism to which life, God, or creation gave those properties. So we take one lego from one bucket and another from another to combine them and create something new, but using what already exists in nature. Sometimes we also modify it; we grow new pieces that neither god nor life has created.

A decade from now, how do you envision will the business of bio-leather be?
We envision that alternative leathers will displace cowhide leathers and synthetic leathers when next-generation leathers are able to scale and offer at least half of the leather’s market demand.

What are the future plans at Polybion. What has been the growth story? What is the targeted revenue for the next 2 years?
Once we reach FOAK1’s maximum capacity of 1,100,000 ft² per year, we will then design, build and test a 10X, fully integrated and automated, bio manufacturing facility that will lay the ground for Polybion’s long term licensing strategy. It will also be solar-powered, rainwater-collecting, low-footprint, and IoT-controlled.

Which brands are sourcing largely from Polybion?
Our current brand collaborations are still confidential. We are working with global brands to enhance these brands’ ability to accelerate the development of bioassembled products, increase sustainability, and accelerate the path toward the circular economy. When the time comes, we’ll have a joint collaboration announcement.

Our entire production process concentrates within a 30-mile radius. We obtain our raw material, agro-industrial food waste, from local industries. Our cell-based biotextile grows within the same biomanufacturing plant, and we carry out the stabilisation process under the same roof. We hold the ultralocality imperative since it allows us to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint that usually derives from the entire biomaterial production process; from acquiring the raw material to having an available product.

Taking nature’s lead, cellulose is the most abundant (and perhaps versatile) polymer on the planet; so with bacteria producing it, the potential for scalable, modular, and high-yielding biomaterials is immense.
Nature as Teacher Taking nature’s lead, cellulose is the most abundant (and perhaps versatile) polymer on the planet; so with bacteria producing it, the potential for scalable, modular, and high-yielding biomaterials is immense. Polybion
 
 
  • Dated posted: September 21, 2022
  • Last modified: September 21, 2022