Phase Biolabs: Accelerating the path to Net Zero for Chemical Manufacturing

Posted on: 12/05/2021

Phase Biolabs is an innovative biotechnology and carbon recycling company launched in response to UK’s Net Zero commitments. To reach this target, they leverage gas fermentation to develop a scalable platform for recycling carbon.

The Need

More than 90% of all organic chemicals are produced from crude oil, resulting in the chemical sector generating around 6% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As we strive towards net zero and transition to a circular economy, there is a need for increasing the use of non-fossil feedstocks as a resource – like the ‘waste’ carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial processes.

The challenge with CO2 however, is that it is technically difficult to recycle into higher value products, particularly chemicals. There are very few technologies which can achieve this conversion at high yield and efficiency.

The Solution

Phase Biolabs is developing carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technology to recycle waste CO2 emissions from industry into sustainable chemicals. Their technology leverages the UK’s research investment in engineering biology and industrial bioenergy to develop a CCU platform based on gas fermentation.

Gas fermentation is similar to yeast-based fermentation, also known as brewing, except the microorganisms “eat” and actually grow off of waste gases such as CO2, while converting them efficiently into chemicals. The difference between the two processes is that brewing generates emissions, while gas fermentation consumes emissions.

To date, gas fermentation processes using syngas as the feedstock have been commercialised, but no such process has been developed using CO2. The advantage of CO2 over syngas fermentation is that no emissions are released during the process, making the final products truly carbon neutral.

How did KTN help?

Phase Biolabs’ founder, David Ortega, had recently completed his post graduate studies at the University of Nottingham’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre and was receiving business training and mentorship from the BrisSynBio and QTEC Enterprise program at the University of Bristol.

To accelerate commercialisation, David reached out to KTN and was introduced to Rajesh Mistry, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Industrial Biotechnology, in order to get feedback on the potential applications for the CCU technology that Phase Biolabs was developing.

David said:

“My initial conversation with KTN was really great. We reviewed various performance parameters of the technology together and got really excited about its potential for reducing industrial GHG emissions. Rajesh provided some critical but constructive feedback on what would be required for the technology to be taken up by industry, and so we set out to find funding to address these issues.”

With KTN’s support, Phase Biolabs was able to secure a Sustainable Innovation Fund SBRI: Phase 1 award in September 2020.

“I had never written a grant application before, so having the help of someone like Rajesh review it was invaluable,” said David. The £40k SBRI award helped solidify the commercial links that Phase had been developing with industry and provided the needed funding to conduct technical and commercial feasibility studies.

David added: “Securing grant funding was critical to getting us off the ground and to progress beyond the early stages. Crucially, we were able to demonstrate the innovative aspect of our CCU technology. We generated proof of concept data for our innovation and completed a techno economic assessment for the proposed process at scale. In addition, we were able to confirm the novelty of the innovation to determine if we could protect it by filing a patent”.

Rajesh Mistry also provided support by reviewing Phase Biolabs’ application for the 2020 KTN SME Accelerator programme, focused on accelerating innovative Chemistry & Industrial Biotechnology solutions, which that company was later accepted into. “The programme and the team have been very helpful to progressing our commercial story, refining our value proposition and getting to a stage where we are investor ready”, said David.

With KTN’s help, Phase Biolabs was able to secure funding to progress their CCU technology to TRL4, which in turn has helped secure commercial partners, including Vivergo Fuels, Celtic Renewables and Arbikie Highland Estate, as well as downstream customers such as Alcohols Limited and Cambridge Display Technology.

The Impact

  • KTN helped identify appropriate funding from Innovate UK and helped improve the quality of their submission.
  • Phase Biolabs was able to leverage KTN’s extensive industry network to engage with potential collaborators and partners.
  • Phase Biolabs has been accepted into KTN’s SME Accelerator program (Enabling a Net Zero World) to help accelerate development and commercialisation of our CCU technology, improving the company’s investor readiness.

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