Protein Evolution, a young biotech company that utilises biological processes to promote the transition to a lower-carbon, circular economy for materials and plastics, has announced the launch of two new projects.
The first will build on the company’s artificial intelligence expertise to create enzymes that break down plastic and textile waste; the second will streamline the methods for manufacturing those enzymes at scale.
The projects are a collaborative effort: the company is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Agile BioFoundry (ABF), the Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU), and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a DOE Bioenergy Research Center, both led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. All three are part of Berkeley Lab’s BioManufactory group of programmes.
Protein Evolution has developed a process that uses AI to design novel enzymes to transform various types of polyester waste back into the building blocks of new polyester, explained Maren Wehrs, director of bioprocess development of Protein Evolution. Entering into partnerships offers the fledgling company a way de-risk the R&D process by providing access to ‘cutting-edge research, infrastructure, and a wealth of domain expertise’ to help accelerate sustainable waste management and the global transition to a lower-carbon, circular economy, she added. The technology developed by Protein Evolution is the first in the U.S. to use enzymes as a catalyst to successfully produce new polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from polyester textile waste. It yields a PET materials that is indistinguishable from the petroleum-derived virgin alternative, but with a far lower carbon footprint.
"Identifying and cost-effectively producing highly catalytic enzymes to transform waste into new products has the potential to significantly reduce industry's reliance on petroleum," said Jay Konieczka, Protein Evolution’s CTO. "At scale, our technology will divert millions of waste products from landfills and the environment, helping to reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, and contribute to a more sustainable and cleaner future.”
In close collaboration with two ABF consortium members - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) - the company will use AI and machine learning-enhanced search and optimisation to accelerate the development and design of new classes of enzymes to break down plastic.“We aim to support biomanufacturing partnerships that enable sustainable industrial production of renewable fuels and chemicals for the nation,” said Gregg Beckham, NREL lead at the ABF.
The next step is to accelerate the development and readiness of new, affordable enzymes for manufacturing, to facilitate a smooth transition transitioning from proof of concept to full-scale production.
In the collaboration with JBEI, the science and technology to transform bioenergy crops into eco-friendly products will be developed by JBEI, while Protein Evolution pioneers in recycling plastics to generate high-quality monomers, according to Blake Simmons, CSTO of JBEI.
In later stages of the project, ABPDU will offer expertise in scalable fermentation and protein separation procedures.
“Our capabilities will allow us to test large-scale production processes that will benefit Protein Evolution’s future scale-up plans,” said Deepti Tanjore, director of ABPDU. “We are hopeful that this partnership will make a major impact on how plastic waste is handled and new plastic material is produced in the future.”