Lux Highlights the Key Themes From BIO World Congress 2017

Lux recently presented at the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology. Although the event’s topics ranged from renewable chemicals and materials to biofuels to synthetic biology, three key themes emerged:

  • Stagnation of the bio-based industry: During the opening plenary session, BIO announced that its event had been host to major product announcements in years past, and that attendees should look forward to similar groundbreaking news. However, there were not any announcements for new materials or products. Instead, many developers focused on rebranding existing products to emphasize performance as a key differentiator. For example, NatureWorks emphasized PLA’s improved barrier properties over petroleum-based plastics instead of its poor mechanical properties.
  • Difficulties commercializing products: However, in spite of the emphasis on performance, commercialization of bio-based materials and chemicals remains a key challenge. Certain tracks focused on scaling and commercializing bio-based products, such as bio-based aromatics. That being said, producing a chemical or material at scale does not correlate to use in final products (see the webinar “The New Face of Bio-based: How Performance Enables Sustainability in Tomorrow’s Products”). Such difficulties in translating materials to end products was evident in the session titled “Meeting Brand Owner and Retailer Demand for Green Chemicals, Materials and Products Through Renewable Chemicals and Biobased Materials,” which featured bio-based chemical producers such as Elevance Renewable Sciences and Amyris, but did not feature any brand owners after speakers from Method and Seventh Generation could no longer attend.
  • The importance of partnerships: Although there were few developments regarding new materials or commercialization, partnership announcements were featured throughout the conference, including the continuation of the Praj-Gevo Joint Development Agreement and a licensing agreement between NatureWorks and Plaxica. More importantly, speakers during the plenary session titled “A Revolution in Biobased Products and Packaging” emphasized the importance of partnerships throughout the value chain – from feedstock provider to end user – to successfully develop and commercialize bio-based materials and chemicals.

Given the historical challenges with developing and commercializing bio-based materials and chemicals, the industry has shifted from relying on sustainability as a key value proposition to focusing on material’s unique performance properties. Now, the bio-based space is challenged with translating that performance into actual end products. Readers looking for success in commercializing bio-based materials and chemicals should look to target improved or novel properties for specific applications, while leveraging partnerships throughout the value chain.

By: Gihan Hewage