“I am convinced that what we lack today to confirm the value creation potential of the industrial biotechnology are concrete examples of investments to construct real industrial operations that are profitable and that create manufacturing jobs.
So all national and European initiatives – co-investment, easing of regulatory procedures, tax incentives, etc. – that will facilitate risk-taking in the industrial phase will be welcomed to demonstrate the industrial biotechnology’s potential and accelerate its development”. To say it – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Benjamin Gonzalez, founder and CEO of METabolic EXplorer, a French green chemistry company that develops and patents innovative, fermentation-based industrial processes. Waiting for EFIB, the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy – which will take place next October 27-29 in Brussels – Il Bioeconomista will host a series of interviews with CEOs, who will be guest speakers in Brussels. Today we offer the second, after the first with Ilkka Hämälä, CEO of Metsä Fibre, published last 21 August.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
How important is industrial biotechnology to support the development of your company?
The mission of METabolic EXplorer (METEX) is to innovate with the objective of speeding up the transition from fossil-based chemistry to biological chemistry while creating value for all its partners.
Our innovations are based on industrial fermentation processes and designed to provide new ways of producing chemicals that have known uses and well-established value chains.
We can therefore say that METEX’s raison d’être is industrial biotechnology. METEX’s development is highly dependent on industrial partnerships with other players who want to find new ways to produce molecules that are obtained today through usual petrochemical processes; or to further develop plant-based production processes; or to replace petrochemical compounds with biobased ones, particularly in the nutrition and cosmetics fields.
This will not be possible unless industrial biotechnology is cost competitive. Competitiveness is very dependent on the cost of raw materials and the performance of products made with biological processes. For example, independent studies show that the nutritional performance of bio-based L-Methionine exceeds that of the petrochemical DL-Methionine currently in use.
France and Spain have announced their strategic plan for the bioeconomy by the end of the year. How important are – from your point of view as CEO of an important bioeconomy player – national plans to promote the development of the bioeconomy?
I do not know about Spain, but France has set up effective programmes for financing the research and development phases of industrial biotechnology projects.
I am convinced that what we lack today to confirm the value creation potential of the industrial biotechnology are concrete examples of investments to construct real industrial operations that are profitable and that create manufacturing jobs. So all national and European initiatives – co-investment, easing of regulatory procedures, tax incentives, etc. – that will facilitate risk-taking in the industrial phase will be welcomed to demonstrate the industrial biotechnology’s potential and accelerate its development.
Europe, Asia, America. Where is it better to invest today for a bioeconomy company?
For R&D, France is a good country because we have skilled human resources and because R&D investments are eligible for a research tax credit of as much as 30%.
For the industrial phase, investments can theoretically be made anywhere there is sugar. Practically speaking, however, that is not enough. Sugar is necessary, but the sugar must be available easily and at a competitive cost. That is why one important focus of innovation in the company is the diversification of the raw materials we use in our processes.In seeking greater competitiveness through the diversification of raw materials, METEX has licenced a PDO manufacturing process using raw glycerine to SK Chemicals for a plant in South Korea, partnered with UPM to develop an MPG process using cellulosic sugars in a European industrial project, and engaged in talks with companies in Asia, Europe, and North and South America concerning the production of L-Methionine from glucose.
What measures are still needed in the European Union to foster the development of the bioeconomy?
With the measures introduced in the Bio Based Industries (BBI) programme, Europe has begun an initiative that is pointed in the right direction. METEX’s MPG programme is also benefiting from its participation in the ValChem collaborative project. Any measure aimed at encouraging risk-taking in the industrial phase would be a good idea to demonstrate the potential of industrial biotechnology and accelerate its development.
Last, from the regulatory standpoint, it would be desirable to see more rules limiting the use of petrochemical products in human and animal nutrition when there are equivalent biological products.
In October you will participate to EFIB. What are your goals?
To give METEX a higher profile in the leading European conference in the field of industrial biotechnology and above all to meet current and future METEX partners in order to work together to develop the bioeconomy.