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Biobased Chemicals

Zymergen raises $300 million for biobased materials

Firm’s first product—and project pipeline—draws deep-pocketed investors

by Melody M. Bomgardner
September 10, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 35

This photo shows a Zymergen employee examining a roll of transparent biobased film.
Credit: Zymergen
A Zymergen employee examines a roll of Hyaline biobased film.

The California-based synthetic biology firm Zymergen has raised $300 million in its fourth round of funding, led by the UK pension and trust investment firm Baillie Gifford, an undisclosed sovereign wealth fund, and other backers. The firm has raised over $870 million so far and says it plans to bring in more in the fourth quarter.

Zymergen says it will use the money to bring new products to market with improved functionality. It expects its fermentation-derived biobased film to debut in electronic displays by the end of the year. The film, called Hyaline, was developed with partner Sumitomo Chemical. Zymergen has additional films as well as adhesives, pesticides, and an insect repellent in the pipeline. Last month, the company linked up with FMC to develop crop protection products.

Synthetic biology has been popular with investors in recent years. The enthusiasm has benefited firms such as Ginkgo Bioworks and Genomatica that promise to transform chemical manufacturing and make it more sustainable. The companies use machine learning, artificial intelligence, and lab automation to customize fermentation microbes for biomanufacturing.

But Zymergen stands out with its strategy to make and sell products rather than just earn money through licensing, says Xiao Zhong, an analyst at Lux Research. “Zymergen is planning to become the next generation of chemical company, and to pull this off it will need more capital. The Sumitomo and FMC deals are just their demonstrations of how this is possible.”

The company, founded in 2013, will have to provide a return for its investors at some point, Zhong points out, and is working toward becoming self-sustaining. Zach Serber, Zymergen’s chief science officer, says the firm is mulling an initial public offering of stock but does not have a timeline.



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