MetGen is a Finnish company headquartered in Kaarina and founded in 2008 on the core competence of genetic engineering and synthetic biology.
In this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista, the CEO, Alex Michine, talks about the achievements and the next steps of the company and gives us his point of view regarding the bioeconomy in Finland and in the European Union.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
MetGen claims that “everything that is made from oil today, can be made of wood tomorrow”. How can this be possible?
MetGen’s goal is to refine lignin and produce ‘drop-in’ replacements for fossil-based chemicals – rather than produce the same fossil-based chemicals. For example, we want to replace formaldehyde in polyurethane foams with lignin fractions. Processing wood fractions – especially lignin – is similar to prerefining oil. However, MetGen can replace complicated operations with simpler, more streamlined processes by converting side streams of lignocellulosic biomass into valuable renewable chemicals and building blocks. Our vision is to enable various industries to get the most value out of biomass, thereby helping them decarbonise.
The market of enzymes is dominated by the Danish biotech giant Novozymes. But it is a market which is attracting many chemical companies, such as BASF and Dupont. What is your strategy to grow in this market?
No single company can fully address the needs of modern biorefineries and we all need to work together to enable a variety of solutions. We are fans of open innovation and working together with other companies and Research Technology Organisations (RTOs).
At MetGen, we’re focused on customising all our enzymatic solutions to our customer process and providing a cocktail of solutions. Processed biomass is like the soup of the day – never the same. Different biomass is pre-treated with different methods and it all undergoes different processes, so we know it doesn’t make sense to create an ‘off-the-shelf’enzymatic solutions.
How does your two technologies Metnin and Enzine work?
ENZINE® is a platform combining protein evolution technology and fermentation, which significantly reduces the technology development cycle of enzymes focused on biomass. It is enzyme agnostic, meaning it can be used to create and improve any enzyme, therefore allowing for tailored solutions.
METNIN enables products made from lignin to have a reduced carbon footprint. The enzyme technology facilitates lignin valorisation in industrial and commercial applications and it is unique due to MetGen’s proprietary enzyme strain working in extreme conditions, including high temperature and pH. A versatile technology, it extends lignin’s application scope.
Frost & Sullivan recognized your company with the 2019 European Technology Innovation Award for your two enzyme technologies. What does this award mean for your company and what are your next steps to develop your business?
We were delighted that Frost & Sullivan recognised our technologies as best-in-class – it means our strategy and vision is working to enable bio-based solutions. The award also recognised the MetGen team’s hard work, which a huge boost to our team spirit.
Recognition from such a prestigious organisation naturally helps raise awareness of our technologies and helps us develop a wider customer base. The award also helps build awareness of more sustainable technologies, which will ultimately help society reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
MetGen is a Finnish company and Finland is probably one of the best places in Europe for the bioeconomy. How much is important for your business the Finnish political and economic environment?
Finland is a great place to set up a start-up, as the country has deep bio-based knowhow, especially on processing biomass in an environmentally-friendly way. What can be improved in Finland – as well as the rest of the EU – is the availability of financing for pilot and demonstration facilities. Luckily, BBI JU, the public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC), is a mechanism which provides this support. We hope the next Horizon Europe programme will be even bigger, as this the only way to accelerate bio-based products’ commercialisation in Europe.
And what do you think is still needed in Europe to grow the bioeconomy?
Building consumer awareness is key for the expansion of the European bioeconomy. European society needs to gain a common understanding on the importance of bio-based solutions and their impact on sustainability and circularity.
We do not believe green solutions should cost a premium price – bio-based solutions need to be widely available and competitively-priced. Brand owners should adapt their strategies to boost market pull for renewable chemicals and products. Once this happens, additional investments by private equity and banks could be injected to accelerate bioeconomy adoption.
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