The biobased chemical pioneer Genomatica has produced 1 metric ton of a chemical intermediate used to make the nylon 6 precursor caprolactam, via sugar fermentation. The effort is part of a partnership with the European nylon producer Aquafil, which supplies yarn to brandname fashion and outdoor apparel companies.
Genomatica first disclosed it had developed a microbe capable of making caprolactam in 2014. But at the time the firm was focused on commercializing 1,4-butanediol with partner BASF. Early last year, Genomatica scaled up production of its second product, the cosmetic ingredient 1,3-butylene glycol.
Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO, tells C&EN that the company started focusing on the nylon intermediate in 2018, the same year it raised $90 million from investors. The caprolactam process leads Genomatica’s pipeline of 6-carbon molecules, which includes intermediates used to make nylon 6,6.
The push to engineer a microbe to make caprolactam parallels Genomatica’s efforts on earlier products, Schilling says. “Our big technology achievements in the past year were more on the biology side—strain and pathway engineering and getting it to produce well.”
In contrast, extracting the nylon intermediate from the fermentation mixture is a unique challenge, Schilling says. Aquafil’s nylon production expertise is helping with engineering for separation and purification.
The intermediate was produced at Acies Bio, a fermentation scale-up firm in Slovenia. Aquafil’s work with Genomatica is not its first foray into sustainable nylon—the company’s Econyl-brand yarn is made from recycled fishing nets and scrap from textile manufacturing.
This story was updated on Jan. 30, 2020, to correctly indicate the chemical that Genomatica produced in a quantity of 1 metric ton. It is a precursor to caprolactam, not caprolactam itself.