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Trash or Treasure? Chemical Production Startup Genomatica Transforms Garbage Into Industrial Gold

Genomatica

Where most people see trash, chemical production startup Genomatica see treasure. And now it’s partnering with Waste Management to convert synthetic gas from landfills into market-ready chemicals.

Genomatica patented its method to use genetically engineered organisms to turn syngas into chemicals last year. As part of the new partnership, the company will use syngas produced by Waste Management through anaerobic digestion, gasification, and landfill gas to produce major chemicals via a microbe catalyst. The syngas to chemical conversion process can currently only be completed using energy-intensive chemical processing techniques; Genomatica claims that its process is less energy-intensive and can produce a wider variety of chemicals than traditional techniques.

“Genomatica is already on a path to deliver sustainable, lower-cost,
smaller-footprint chemicals made from renewable feedstocks, including various
commercially-available sugars, rather than from oil or natural gas,” said
Christophe Schilling, chief executive officer of Genomatica, in a statement. “This
agreement accelerates our initiatives to provide greater feedstock flexibility,
by enabling the use of syngas to produce a range of chemicals, and in
particular, syngas derived from waste materials.”

In an email to Fast Company, Genomatica declined to reveal what chemicals it will produce from Waste Management’s trash.

Genomatica is known for using microbes to turn renewable feedstocks
into major market chemicals. In 2009 the company developed a process
that uses genetically modified E. coli bacteria to convert sugar
(derived from sugar cane or
beets) into commercial grade 1,4 butadeniol (BDO), an industrial plastic
commonly used to manufacture fibers like Spandex. The company plans to expand its Michigan-based BDO pilot plant from a 3,000 liter production capacity to 10,000 liters later this year. No word, however, on when Genomatica plans to start turning Waste Management’s trash into chemicals.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.AS