As synthetic biology is expected to embrace massive opportunities in China, Cathay Biotech, a listed company engaged in the research, development, production and sales of new bio-based materials, plans to further tap the sector.
SynBio and biological manufacturing methodologies represent attractive alternatives to fossil fuels and are fundamentally effective in tackling the problem of climate change, said Liu Xiucai, president of the Shanghai-based company.
SynBio is a field of science that involves redesigning microorganisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities. In addition to energy, synthetic biology researchers and companies around the world are also harnessing the power of nature to solve problems in medicine, manufacturing and agriculture.
"After years of research and development, it has become possible to engineer microbial cell factories for efficient biomaterial and biofuel production in a more precise and efficient manner," Liu said.
"Through the use of synthetic biology, Cathay Biotech makes it possible for the drastic reduction of carbon emissions of its products, with advantages in terms of both performance and economics. This is also in line with the country's ambitions to peak carbon by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060," he said.
According to think tank Research and Markets, the SynBio industry is a prime growth opportunity as many of its applications have large market applications, the penetration rate is still modest and the development of exciting new technologies is also driving innovation in the sector.
SynBio technologies can add value to pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biofuels, agriculture, textiles and food, all of which have large downstream market potential.
The agency expects the industry will experience explosive growth as penetration rates accelerate in the future.
With the polyamide industry being its major business, Cathay Biotech currently produces monomer raw materials that can be used in the production of bio-based polyamides, which can be applied in many fields including textiles, automobiles, electronic appliances, consumer goods and other fields.
Renewable carbon content of the company's bio-based pentamethylene diamine (PDA) accounts for 100 percent, according to analysis and evaluation by an authoritative third-party qualification organization. With green biological manufacturing processes, carbon emissions are drastically reduced through such production, it said.
When used as an alternative to steel, continuous fiber-reinforced thermal plastics (CFRT) using bio-based polyamides, which are much lighter compared to steel, can also help reduce carbon emissions during the transportation and application process, it said.
Based on its own bio-based polyamide products, Cathay has launched high-performance bio-polyamide textile material TERRYL for broad applications in clothing, carpets, industrial yarns and other textile fields, with excellent properties such as breathability and moisture absorption capabilities.
The engineering material ECOPENT that Cathay launched as a thermoplastic that can be recycled for use in automotive applications, electronics, industrial and consumer goods and other engineering material fields, has also provided solutions for sustainable development.
PDA produced from sustainable resources through Cathay's proprietary process has, for the first time, realized industrialization worldwide, which has tackled bottlenecks in nylon industry development, Liu said.
PDA is widely used as an epoxy curing agent, an ingredient in hot melt adhesive formulations, diisocyanates and in other related applications.
The substitution of hexamethylene diamine (HMDA) by Cathay's PDA in the field of polyamides can solve major bottlenecks in the development of polyamides, Liu added.
Cathay's PDA also provides the market and customers with new "biological manufacturing" materials made from renewable biomass raw materials. Moreover, PDA provides downstream bio-based polyamides and other products with excellent performance characteristics due to its unique carbon structure, he added.
The company has been making substantial progress in using agricultural waste like corn stock to make synthetic materials. Its current experiment using corn stock to make lactic acid has been going well and is expected to solve overreliance on food grains in the long run.
Cathay Biotech has been working together with the Shanxi provincial government to promote low-carbon development and produce biomaterials for a wide range of products, including automotive materials, wind turbine blades, shipping containers as well as textiles from agricultural products and waste.
"Unlike most synthetic materials made from petroleum, we make similar products from plants, as bio-based polyamides－the basic raw material used to produce a variety of products－are extracted from corn and the stalks of other crops," said Zang Huiqing, vice-president of Cathay Biotech.
Such a technique can substantially reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other polluting and greenhouse gases compared to production using petroleum, she said.
Mass production of the company's products will begin in the near future at its manufacturing facility in the Shanxi Transformation and Comprehensive Reform Demonstration Zone.
One of Cathay Biotech's largest production facilities in China is Shanxi Synthetic Biological Industry Park. The park has total funding of more than 60 billion yuan ($9.42 billion) and is currently under construction in the zone.
When talking about Cathay Biotech's dream of expansion, Liu said the company hopes to develop a bio-based materials industry as big as petrochemicals.
"The birth of a new material will be disruptive for many industries, and we believe bio-based materials replacing traditional materials is an irreversible trend with broad prospects," he said.
According to Liu, the company has a solid foundation in bio-manufacturing and has been making rapid progress in the synthetic biology sector. He expects an industrial process that can compete with petrochemical methods in due time is highly likely, which will further reduce the overreliance on traditional petrochemical and chemical products.
The company has been creating a large number of solutions and patents in the sector in recent years, including bio-manufactured long-chain diacids, of which Cathay Biotech is a leading supplier worldwide already, thanks to its years of research and development investment.
The product category has helped the company realize market substitution of chemically processed products that have enjoyed a large market share for decades, he said.
Liu said the company will continue increasing investment in scientific research just as in the past so as to accelerate the industrialization of R&D achievements and maintain the leading position in the industry.
"Cathay Biotech will continue to promote the innovation of bio-based products and technologies based on our core technologies, and to provide a positive force for the development of synthetic biology and bio-manufacturing to lead the sustainable development of technologies and industries," he said.
As a listed company on the Shanghai stock exchange's STAR Market, the company's R&D center is located in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai and its two production sites are in Jinxiang and Wusu.
A third production site is under construction in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, which will expand the capacity of long-chain diacids, pentane diamine and bio-based polyamides.