Biobased chemicals firm Genomatica has inked a multiyear deal with Aquafil, an Italian producer of nylon 6 fiber, to develop a commercial process for sustainable nylon. Aquafil will license Genomatica’s technology to make the nylon raw material caprolactam from sugar via fermentation with genetically modified microbes.
Genomatica first disclosed it had routes to biobased caprolactam in 2014. The company holds several patents on genetically engineered pathways for a family of biopolymer intermediates that also includes adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine, raw materials for nylon 6,6.
Aquafil says its customers in the sportswear, fashion, and carpet industries are very interested in sustainable nylon. The company currently sells a nylon 6 fiber called Econyl, made from preconsumer scrap nylon and other waste products such as abandoned fishing nets.
“We aim to be a leader of sustainability for nylon, and we are excited by the opportunity to be the first to bring the benefits of this new technology to our customers,” says Aquafil CEO Giulio Bonazzi.
Traditional chemical firms such as Fibrant and AdvanSix make caprolactam from benzene, derived from crude oil. Genomatica and Aquafil point out that 5 million tons of the intermediate are produced each year. They say they aim to create a low-cost process that can work in smaller-scale plants.
Another fiber maker, Invista, has been working with renewable chemicals firm LanzaTech since 2012 on a fermentation route to butadiene, a starting material for hexamethylenediamine. In 2015, the companies reaffirmed their partnership but said the process was still at an early stage.
Genomatica earlier licensed technology for another biobased chemical, 1,4-butanediol (BDO), to BASF and Novamont. The two firms now produce bio-BDO in commercial quantities for use in making elastic fibers and other products.