An interview with Jason Camp, CTO at Circa Group

“It is in everyone’s interests for life-sustaining chemicals to be manufactured both safely and reliably. We would argue that it is also extremely important that those chemicals be as sustainable as possible, so that future generations will have a habitable plant to use them on.” Jason Camp, CTO at Circa Group, talks to Il Bioeconomista. The Australia-based company is converting waste biomass into advanced biochemical materials.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

We are going through a very complicated period due to Covid19. What impact is the crisis having on Circa’s business?

Circa is an international team and although we’re used to working remotely, it has been challenging for our growing business and our peers in the bioeconomy. From a personal perspective, I joined Circa at the beginning of the year and I’m grateful to have been involved in many positive developments for Circa in 2020. 

We have been fortunate enough to continue producing our core products from our FC5 plant in Tasmania, which has allowed us tocontinue meeting our customers’ needs. Earlier this year, we also began offering our manufacturing capability to experts looking for building blocks for coronavirus therapeutics, including ribonolactone. The platform chemical we produce from non-food waste biomass, levoglucosenone (LGO), is an excellent starting material for the synthesis of biologically active compounds. Researchers recently took advantage of LGO functionality to synthesise building blocks required for existing drugs, including those used to treat COVID-19.

October saw the launch of ReSolute, the EU flagship Horizon 2020 project we are leading. This project will build a commercial plant to produce 1,000 tonnes per year of bio-based solvent Cyrene™, ultimately helping support the EU’s circular bioeconomy policies. We’re delighted to be leading the consortium for this project and go into industrial scale in the EU.

Finally, we recently launched a new e-commerce shop which enables LGO and some of its derivatives to be directly purchased.The LGO platform has a multitude of applications – including coronavirus therapeutics – agrochemicals, bio-based polymers and the flavours and fragrances industries. Until Circa’s introduction of the Furacell process, LGO-was only available on a very small scale. Our new e-commerce shop allows researchers access to aplatform molecule which has a lot of potential.

The health crisis clearly shows the need to revise our economic and social model. What is your point of view on this?

It is in everyone’s interests for life-sustaining chemicals to be manufactured both safely and reliably. We would argue that it is also extremely important that those chemicals be as sustainable as possible, so that future generations will have a habitable plant to use them on. This is why we work closely with a number of industrial partners to ensure that the drugs you take, food you eat and consumer products you use are made in the most sustainable way possible.

What are your next steps to develop your business?

Ultimately, we remain focused on creating sustainable, high-performance chemicals from cellulose, using our Furacell technology. We will continue exploring opportunities provided by our core molecule LGO, building up our Cyrene™ brand and leveraging interest through our e-commerce store. We see a range of interesting opportunities in areas such as fine chemicals (pharmaceutical, agrochemicals and flavours & fragrance), biopolymers, surfactants and other platform chemicals. We will continue working alongside our partners in the ReSolute consortium to build the flagship plant, which will be located in Eastern France. Engineering work has begun and the estimated commissioning date is end of 2022.

From the Australian observatory, what do you think of the European Green New Deal?

A circular, sustainable bioeconomy has the potential to contribute to many dimensions of the European Green New Deal – as well as help the EU recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whilst we a currently headquartered in Australia, Circa Group has established companies in both the UK and Belgium. Being embedded in Europe allow us to provide a significant contribution toward achieving the goals of the Green New Deal.

Are there similar measures in Australia?

There has been a significant amount of discussion in the Australian government about how to respond to climate change. As you know, Australia is suffering badly from environmental change and this fact is putting increasing pressure on the government to put in place more proactive measures.

What do you need from your point of view to increasingly favor the development of the circular bioeconomy?

We see consumers, brand owners and retailers as being the major driving force towards a circular bioeconomy. Government needs to follow up these efforts with increased regulation and education. 

Regulation will push industry to adopt more sustainable manufacturing processes and education will ensure everyone understands the importance of a circular bioeconomy and how it can contribute to making the world a better place for everyone.

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