Blog | 08.01.2024

Cell-free biocatalysts: Paving the path from the climate crisis to a sustainable future

Micro-organisms: a stepping stone, but limited.

In a world grappling with the urgent realities of the climate crisis, innovative solutions that can address environmental challenges efficiently and swiftly are more crucial than ever. before. Enter cell-free biocatalysts – a cutting-edge technology that holds immense promise for revolutionizing bio-based product manufacturing and tackling sustainability issues head-on. In this blog post, we’ll delve into why cell-free biocatalysts stand as a beacon of hope for a sustainable future, especially when compared to microorganism-based catalysis, and shed light on their potential to drive tangible change within the pressing timelines dictated by the climate crisis.

Part 1 – Microorganisms: A stepping stone, but limited

Microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast have long been employed as workhorses for bio-based chemical production. Their ability to convert raw material – ‘feedstocks’ – into valuable compounds has made them a cornerstone of biotechnology. Numerous startups like Amyris and Zymergen have ventured into harnessing microorganisms’ potential for sustainable product manufacturing — but failed to materialize in chemical production at scale. Deeper analysis reveals that while these microorganism-based approaches offer promise, they come with inherent limitations that impede their ability to meet the accelerated demands of the climate crisis. Here are some of the key reasons why:

Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) Costs: Microorganisms require dedicated fermentation facilities with controlled environments, requiring substantial upfront investments. In contrast, cell-free biocatalyst systems can be deployed with significantly lower CAPEX costs, making them more accessible for rapid implementation.

Operating Expenditure (OPEX) Costs: Maintaining optimal growth conditions for microorganisms necessitates continuous monitoring, energy consumption, and resource-intensive processes. Cell-free biocatalysts, on the other hand, circumvent these OPEX-intensive demands as they dispense with the need to maintain these life-sustaining conditions—making them more economically viable in the long run.

Robustness of Scale: Scaling up microorganism-based processes often introduces challenges related to maintaining uniform conditions, susceptibility to contamination, and overall system stability. Cell-free biocatalyst systems exhibit greater scalability, offering robust and reliable performance across varying demands in a form that is highly transportable—and near invulnerable to the typical frailties of cell-based systems.

Feedstock Conversion Efficiency: Microorganisms’ metabolic pathways are subject to inherent bottlenecks and limitations, affecting their efficiency in converting feedstocks into desired products. Cell-free biocatalysts, being enzyme-based systems, can be fine-tuned and optimized to achieve higher feedstock conversion rates, leading to increased overall efficiency.

Production throughput of Flow Biocatalyst Systems vs. Batch Microorganism Systems: Flow-based cell-free biocatalyst systems enable continuous operation, resulting in higher throughput and reduced production cycle times compared to the batch processes typically associated with microorganisms.


Grant Aarons

CEO, Founder

You’re in good company