Nature has a remarkable ability to recycle. It can break apart complex organic materials into simpler compounds. Then nature will re-use those substances to build plants and animals.
Last week, Allonnia launched with $40 million in funding to engineer and commercialize microbes to eliminate pollutants in wastewater and soil.
“The waste problem is vast and growing, and impacts the health of our planet and everyone,” said Nicole Richards who joined Allonnia as CEO after a stint at Dupont. “Luckily, nature already uses microbes to break down waste. Allonnia will be accelerating and scaling natural processes to develop new breakthroughs and increase the efficiency of waste remediation.”
Allonnia is the third company to launch out of the Ferment Consortium, Ginkgo Bioworks’ $350 million investment vehicle leveraging biology to solve global challenges and transform established industries. Ferment Consortium companies Joyn Bio, Motif Foodworks, and now Allonnia will utilize Ginkgo’s foundry for biological engineering, its iterative codebase model, and an extensive industry network of partners and investors.
The company is also backed by Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, Battelle, General Atlantic, and Viking Global Investors.
Finding Value in Waste
Manufacturers have started looking at their waste streams differently. The business community has learned that reducing waste – including toxic waste – often means less cost. Reducing waste could also increase efficiencies and boost profits. Taking a cue from nature – where there is no waste – manufacturers are beginning to look at their waste streams as potential assets.
The potential to treat industrial wastewater and land treatment, improve oil and gas processing, impact plastics degradation, and recycle consumer goods is worth hundreds of billions of dollars globally. Richards, who last served as growth, strategy, and M&A director of Water Solutions at Dupont, saw an opportunity.
“Waste pollution is one of the most pivotal environmental issues impacting public and planetary health. Traditional solutions have reached their limit,” continued Richards. “Microbes’ ability to break down substances have always made them appealing for waste remediation. Our job at Allonnia will be to accelerate and scale the natural process of breaking down waste while increasing efficiency and sustainability.”
Changing Our View of Waste
Allonnia targets a class of man-made chemicals known as PFAs, which are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily including food packaging, non-stick pots and pans, and water repellent fabrics. Some of the most commonly used PFAs have long lives, earning the name “the forever chemicals.”
Allonnia aims to change the current trajectory of waste management, by leveraging Ginkgo’s platform and recent advances in protein engineering and cell design to develop microbial and enzymatic solutions that destroy environmental contaminants. Allonnia also aims to recover and upcycle critical elements found in waste streams such as manufacturing waste, catalyst recovery, and electronic components. Many of these materials are difficult to mine and costly to recycle using traditional methods. Allonnia will design biological processes to specifically and selectively recover valuable elements in complex waste streams to make them reusable for future manufacturing processes.
Richards believes Allonia has the opportunity to change how we view waste. “We consider waste to be a failure of the human imagination. Allonnia will bring the power of synthetic biology tools to revolutionize the waste markets and address problems where new approaches are badly needed. Our vision is a waste- and pollution-free world. Our contribution will be mitigating the damage that has been done and helping create a better world for the future.”
I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about—including Ginkgo Bioworks—are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. Thank you to Karl Schmieder for additional research and reporting in this article.