An exclusive interview with Nicolas Sordet, founder and CEO Afyren

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“Simplification of the European regulatory framework could also go a long way toward accelerating and promoting the circular bioeconomy surge.“ Nicolas Sordet, founder and CEO of AFYREN, talks to Il Bioeconomista. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in France, AFYREN collected more than €70 million funding in 2019, which allows the company to grow from a pilot stage to industrial-scale production.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

What is Afyren’s main business?

AFYREN has developed technology to produce 100% biobased chemical building blocks (a family of 7 organic acids). All of them can replace current products made from petroleum feedstock. These natural organic acids and their derivatives provide innovative and effective solutions for human and animal nutrition, fragrances and flavors, lubricants, materials sciences and life sciences. Their carbon footprint is one-fifth that of homologous products on the market, thanks to AFYREN’S dedication to sustainable production grounded in the circular bioeconomy.

We are about to industrialize our technology, with a first production plant using sugar industry byproducts coming online in early 2022.

Can you explain to us in detail your long-term agreement with Südzucker?

AFYREN has developed a whole value chain to produce its biobased molecules. We are using non-food biomass as feedstock for our fermentation process, which is natural and does not use genetically modified organisms. The long-term agreement signed with Südzucker involves the sourcing  ofsugar by-products for our first production plant, which is being built in Carling-Saint-Avold (in eastern France). This strategic step allows us to secure a supply of sustainable, regional and renewable raw materials. We are really pleased to partner with Südzucker and contribute to the development of a European bioeconomy value chain.

We are experiencing a very difficult period all over the world, due to the spread of the coronavirus. How is the pandemic affecting your business?

On the construction side (our plant in Carling), we have thus far navigated through the COVID crisis and without falling significantly behind our initial schedule. For this, I thank all ofthe extremely motivated and highly committed teams involved. Business-wise, the pandemic has been a strong accelerator. This virus has, in a way, highlighted the fragility of current global economic models and the possible costs of some of the macro risks we are taking as a society. Global warming is one of them, and now it looks like an increasing number of people and companies are realizing that becoming more sustainable is absolutely imperative. I think this explains the acceleration of demand for our biobased products.

What are your next steps to grow the business?

Obviously our main goal is to finish the construction of our first plant in France, which should be operational in the first part of 2022. Then, of course, we will turn to our second plant. We are considering several different options right now, in order to provide our customers with more local and sustainable sourcing options.

In parallel, we are working hard to further develop further our R&D platform based on our patented fermentation knowledge, to reinforce and diversify our portfolio.

As far as you’re concerned, what is needed at European level to encourage the growth of SMEs in the circular bioeconomy?

A lot of initiatives have already been put in place to help such companies. The Biobased Industry program (BBI JU), through which AFYREN has been awarded a €20 million grant, is a very good example (see AFTER-BIOCHEM project). The EIF (European Investment Fund) is also investing a lot in VC funds that focus on sustainable, “impact” projects.

But there is probably a lot more that can be done to facilitate the financing of innovative projects — investment will continue to be a strong success factor. In this respect, the rapid development of COVID vaccines is a good example. Simplification of the European regulatory framework could also go a long way toward accelerating and promoting the circular bioeconomy surge. 

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