China Food

Under the pressure of carbon reduction, synthetic biotechnology is changing the essence industry

The sustainable application trend of
has pushed the essence industry towards the era of biosynthesis 2.0.
Recently, international giants have deployed the development of synthetic biology in the field of essence through cooperation and acquisition.
In August 2021, givn.sw, an international essence giant, announced that it would “produce more innovative and sustainable ingredients through fermentation” with Ginkgo Bioworks (, a leading synthetic biology company. This is not the first time that chihuarton has deployed biotechnology. Before that, chihuarton and manus bio, a biological manufacturing company founded by Professor MIT, have been cooperating for many years, and acquired alderys, a French biotechnology company, in 2020.
In 2010, fenmeiyi cooperated with Amyris, a renewable chemical company, to develop three essence. In 2016, takasha spice acquired centre progressive technology. In 2019, acquired isobionics, a Dutch biotechnology enterprise; In the same year, it signed a cooperation agreement with conagen, a biotechnology company, to produce naturally fermented vanillin. In 2021, DSM acquired the essence and perfume businesses of Amyris, an American biotechnology company.
Source: chihuarton
Fenmeiyi saw the application prospect of synthetic biology in the field of essence for a long time, but the price was too high 20 years ago, and technological progress made fenmeiyi see the feasibility. Sarah Reisinger, senior vice president in charge of research business, pointed out that the reason why fenmeiyi adheres to the layout of biotechnology is the amazing efficiency of enzymes in the production of specific products and the ability to use plant-based carbon and sustainable processes to produce products that are difficult to obtain from nature.
Chihuarton’s cooperation goals include manufacturing “only a few products in nature” and developing natural and sustainable materials “. BASF said that biotechnology can meet the growing demand for natural ingredients and avoid the trap of purchasing plant substances.
According to a report of allied market research, the global flavor ingredient market value in 2019 was $13.6 billion, which is expected to reach $16.1 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 3.8% from 2020 to 2027. The increasing demand for environmental, natural and customized perfume and higher living standards are the key factors driving market growth during the forecast period.
Challenges faced by the essence industry:
Animal welfare and environmental ecological pressure
The raw materials of natural essence mainly come from animals and plants.
Musk is a typical animal ingredient. Before becoming an endangered species, 140 musk deer were killed to produce a kilogram of musk. With the increasing demand of consumers for “zero cruelty” and the addition of prohibitions related to animal protection in various countries, essence companies have gradually abandoned natural musk.
Natural plant materials from trees are also increasingly difficult to obtain. For example, aloes, the fragrance comes from a resin containing fragrance. For every 100 aloes trees, about 7 trees contain this resin. Because it cannot be detected in advance, aloes trees are over harvested, and this species is extremely endangered in most natural areas. Another example is sandalwood. Sandalwood takes 20 years or more to mature, and growth requires specific conditions. Decades of excessive logging has threatened the production of natural sandalwood.
Planting based raw materials also face challenges. Bad weather, seasonality and inconsistent harvest quality will lead to supply fluctuations. During the epidemic, the global price of limonene soared. Limonene is used in industry as a flavor source of food, cosmetics and household products. It is also the starting material, solvent and degreasing detergent of many pharmaceutical products. During the epidemic, the demand for cleaning products surged, but the global shutdown led to delays in Citrus harvest and processing.
Even before the epidemic, limonene will also be affected by citrus Greening (a bacterial infection transmitted by pests), and the price will fluctuate in multiples within a year. With the global climate change and the increase of unpredictable weather, downstream companies prefer to use reliable synthetic sources in order to stabilize production costs.
Citrus Greening (source: modern farmer)
In addition, essence raw materials have also been questioned in terms of sustainability. Some raw materials are grown in areas that may be ecologically or economically sensitive, where land use may be a moral issue. And in the less developed raw material producing areas, the treatment of farmers has also been concerned by European and American consumers.
Natural ingredients may also cause allergies. For example, the formula of Chanel No. 5 is being revised to replace some wood scents derived from natural moss. Because the EU calls them allergens and has taken measures to limit them.
Bio based synthetic raw materials:
More “natural”, more sustainable
Due to the above problems, the essence industry has long begun to explore ways to replace natural raw materials. But initially, it was not biosynthesis, but chemical synthesis. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 95% of the synthetic ingredients used in spices are synthesized from petroleum.
Synthetic technology brings many benefits to essence. For example, reproduce the fragrance of some raw materials that cannot be extracted naturally; Reproduce a brief and immaterial smell, such as the smell of waves; It reduces the cost of essence and democratizes the use of perfume; Due to the stability of synthetic materials, the quality and service life of perfume are improved; The synthesis is strictly controlled, so it contains less sensitizing ingredients, which makes the formula safer.
However, the preference for natural ingredients is still an important consumption trend.
In the survey of more than 1000 American Beauty consumers conducted by Harris poll in 2017, 38% of consumers prefer all natural skin care products; 19% of shoppers said it was important for them to buy all natural perfume products, an increase of 4% over 2016. When products are labeled with “natural” essence ingredients, they can often be sold at a higher price.
Unlike oil-based synthetic essence, bio based synthesis can reproduce natural ingredients and label them “natural”.
An article in the New York Times mentioned that in the United States, products extracted from genetically modified yeast are not required to be labeled as “GMO” (genetically modified), because engineered yeast is considered to be a processing technology rather than a source of flavoring / flavor products. According to the current regulations in the United States and Europe, biosynthetic products produced by microbial fermentation are considered “natural” or “basically equivalent” to plant derived products. In contrast, chemically synthesized essence / fragrances extracted from petroleum cannot be labeled “natural”.
It can be used to produce expensive spices that have disappeared or are scarce, which can bring high income. For example, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It has always been a labor-intensive crop and is difficult to grow on a large scale. Saffron aldehyde is a key compound in the manufacture of saffron. Synthetic biologists at the Chennai laboratory, an early synthetic biology company, found a way to make E. coli produce saffron aldehyde. In addition, the santonene in the precious sandalwood has also been successfully manufactured on a biological basis.
Natural saffron field (source: Food unfolded)
The large carbon footprint brought by chemical synthesis is another reason to promote biosynthesis. Musk mentioned above, which is difficult to obtain in nature, was later mainly produced by chemical synthesis. Synthetic musks are mainly divided into three categories: nitro musks, polycyclic musks and macrocyclic musks. The first two are used in many fields from cosmetics to detergents. They are made of synthetic Petrochemical compounds and are considered to be harmful to the environment and human body. Conagen, a synthetic biology company, is using microbial fermentation to produce macrocyclic musk compounds based on plant extraction.
For components based on carbon production, synthetic biotechnology can also reduce the carbon footprint in the production process by using renewable carbon, improving carbon efficiency in synthesis, maximizing biodegradable carbon, and increasing the odor impact of each carbon.
More sustainable supply chain?
In 2020, more than 100 essence companies signed the sustainable development charter designated by the international essence Association (IFRA) and the international essence industry organization (IOFI). The Charter highlights five focus areas: responsible procurement, reducing the environmental footprint, employee well-being, product safety, and transparency and partnerships.
In terms of sustainability, transparency and supervision of the supply chain are often the best response of brands to consumer concerns. However, the complexity of the supply chain of perfume makes it difficult for brands to realize the whole process monitoring, so many brands have avoided the responsibility of issues from endangered species and deforestation to agricultural community development.
In an article in 2021, fragrance reporter and blogger Victoria frolova introduced the dilemma of frankincense in detail. Frankincense can be extracted from frankincense trees in North Africa, West Africa, India, Oman and Yemen, and is the only source of income for many local people. Increasing demand and armed conflict make it difficult to harvest excessively. Environmentalists predict that 50% of the wild frankincense forests may disappear within a few years. However, when frolova interviewed several perfume brands containing frankincense, he found that some of them did not know that this ingredient was on the verge of extinction, while others believed that the supplier would “track the source of its materials” and did not know the exact source of the ingredient.
Based on biosynthesis, it can better create a sustainable brand image, avoid the intensive development of some protected raw materials or endangered animals to protect species, and also allow tracing the entire supply chain to achieve transparency and regulation.
However, there are different views on whether biosynthesis equals sustainability. Synbiowatch believes that the debate about biofuels and bioenergy shows that plant sugar chemistry and water intensive agriculture are unsustainable. In addition to the significant ecological impact of chemical pollution, these raw material industries are also related to destructive forestry operations, land grabbing and land clearing. In addition, the synthetic biological process itself may produce uncontrollable accidental pollutants, toxins or allergens.
Commercialization path:
Cut in the gap between supply and demand, and reduce costs with biological fermentation technology
Synthetic biology brings the uninterrupted potential of more uniform and continuous high-value raw materials to the supply chain of essence. In other words, the company will not be affected by climate, weather, crop failure, price and political fluctuations, or the logistics complexity of purchasing raw materials from farmers and other suppliers in remote areas. Choosing synthetic organisms to replace natural production is a long-term trend.
The high development and manufacturing costs of synthetic biotechnology are the main factors that are questioned whether it can be commercialized. In addition to continuously improving technology to reduce costs, in the essence market, early entrants to synthetic biology companies start with ingredients that already have a huge supply and demand gap, scarce precious spices, or products that do not have cost advantages by traditional methods.
Vanilla is an example of a huge gap between supply and demand. The output of natural vanilla is small and declining. Other aromatic and popular ingredients extracted from natural vanilla beans, such as vanillin, cost about $1500 per kilogram. The synthetic production of evolva vanillin, a synthetic biology company, was changed to the fermentation of genetically modified yeast strains, which significantly reduced the cost to about $10-20 per kilogram. Therefore, at present, the vast majority of vanilla extracts in the market now rely on biotechnology extraction, rather than the source of vanilla beans. Evolva produces up to $500million worth of synthetic vanilla extract on the market every year.
Source: evolva
The traditional natural methods of extracting only a small amount of fragrance sources in nature often do not have cost advantages. Isobionics, a Dutch biotechnology company, started from the aroma components of oranges and grapefruit, avoiding direct and positive competition with established companies. Isobionics pointed out that it is expensive and laborious to produce isoprenoids from orange and grapefruit peel and fruit juice by traditional methods. For example, nootkatone, which is widely used in markets such as perfume, personal care and home cleaning, consumes about 400000 grapefruits per kilogram of production; 2.5 million kilograms of oranges are needed for the production of every kilogram of valencene ingredient.
Original title: under ESG pressure, synthetic biotechnology is changing the essence industry
Author: Li Shengrong; Source: yuanqicapital (id:yuanqicapital), reprint has been authorized. Reprint authorization and media business cooperation: Amy (wechat: 13701559246); Join the community: Cherry (wechat: related reading

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