Global fermentation capacity no longer fits manufacturers’ needs. Less than 20% of facilities have bioreactors larger than 20,000 L but, as companies move to demo-scale and commercial-scale batch sizes, that is exactly what more than half the companies are seeking, according to a new report by Synonym.
The State of Global Fermentation is based on an analysis of facilities and users’ searches in Synonym’s Capacitor database. That database details 150 fermentation facilities in more than 30 countries. It shows bioreactor capacities of more than 20 million L in Europe, 9 million in the Americas and approximately 1.5 million in the Asia Pacific region. Of those, 70% are sized for bench- and pilot-scale fermentation. The remainder are demo- and commercial-scale facilities.
The types of end-product capabilities fermentation facilities offer are well-aligned with the demands of developers—largely those producing enzymes, proteins, biomass, and recombinant proteins.
Varied downstream capabilities
While upstream fermentation capabilities are considered standard, “downstream, there’s a lot more variability,” Alex Jaffe, a Synonym product manager, says. In addition to fermentation, 69% of report respondents also support purification—mainly centrifugation (62% of that total), followed by chromatography and ultrafiltration at 47% and 41%, respectively. Another 58% of fermentation providers offer biomass recovery, and 47% can provide drying.
“Companies are increasingly eager to move to larger scale, where economies of scale can bring their products closer to prevailing prices and allow their products to (reach) the market,” notes Jaffe. For enough commercial-scale facilities to be built, she says, three things must occur.
First, synthetic biology companies must secure off-take agreements (in which companies agree to sell goods before they are produced) from “credit-worthy purchasers,” she says. This will “send the signal to capital providers…that these multi-million dollar commercial-scale facility projects are bankable and likely to be successful. Without these commercial commitments, it will be hard to unlock the capital necessary to build large-scale facilities.”
Second, policy changes are needed to encourage the necessary private-public partnerships. “Such things as government incentives, tax programs and workforce development initiatives that advance the bioeconomy can support the development of biomanufacturing infrastructure,” Jaffe says.
Third, it requires patience. “Building large-scale fermentation facilities, can—if all the stars align—take 12 to 24 months to begin operations after ground-breaking. Several companies, including Synonym, are actively working on plans to develop facilities to come online in the near future,” she points out.
“We expect the demand for these (larger-scale) specs will increase as today’s synbio startups grow into later-stage companies and form the foundation for a greener, global manufacturing economy.”