“We’re an emerging sector. We’re the cool kids. And that takes time,” said Kathryn Sheridan, CEO and founder of Sustainability Consult, during a Wednesday morning breakout session on the rise of bio-materials and bio-based products at Sustainable Brands 2016 San Diego.
Bio-based alternatives to plastic and other fossil-based materials can be used for a variety of applications, including construction, manufacturing and apparel, among others. However, many have yet to reach scale, largely due to industry clinging to classic chemistry.
“Bio-based materials work, it’s just a matter of economics,” Sheridan said.
Our collective understanding of how microbes work is for the first time allowing us to make chemicals in a safer and more environmentally friendly way.
“If we want to evolve, our materials evolve. Biology gives us a toolbox to allow us to make different things, things we weren’t able to make with classical chemistry.”
It is now possible for us to engineer microbes to have specific functions, which have a variety of sustainability applications. But some are resistant to embrace bio-based materials and bio-products because they are primed to associate the word “chemical” with “bad.”
“Chemicals have been associated with being negative,” said Lisa Dyson, CEO of Kiverdi. “Everything is chemicals, but bio-based chemicals aren’t bad.”
One promising applications for microbes is recycling traditionally difficult to recycle materials, such as plastics.
“It’s kind of like recycling on steroids, so you can liquify the oil and turn it into other products,” Dyson said.
But to reach the full potential of bio-based products and bio-materials, companies are going to need to invest resources into research and development to allow it to scale.
“It’s about taking a risk in what could happen and investing the resources to make it happen,” said Dyson.