Illinois is in a Unique Position to Advance Biomanufacturing – Sourcing Journal

According to one scientist, Innovate Illinois has the potential to make the United States the biomanufacturing capital of the world. The public-private coalition formed to advance coordinated efforts to secure federal funding — including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — announced its support for two projects that will create a tech hub of the Federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) seek funding in the country.

And one of those projects, iFAB: Illinois Fermentation and Agriculture Biomanufacturing Tech Hub, could have a significant impact on the textile industry.

“Precision fermentation and bioproduction can be used [multiple] different end products. The reason it’s called Precision Fermentation is because there are many levels to pull and many buttons to push to manipulate the black box in which manufacturing takes place – to fine-tune the products coming out of the backend ‘ Beth Alexandra Conerty, associate director of business development for the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Lab (IBRL) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign told Sourcing Journal.

The hope, Conerty continued, is to use precision fermentation to achieve desired performance properties in apparel — moisture wicking and odor resistance, for example — to replace the use of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which are quickly becoming public — and lose -favorite legal products.

“One way to adjust the levers and knobs would be to use biology to make the same chemicals, but through biomanufacturing instead,” Conerty said. “So you’re thinking more about a nylon or a polymer of plant origin. And that’s just the immediate replacement, but because the black-box process is so durable, the next step is actually improving the performance of materials and base chemicals that could be used in higher-performing textiles or fabrics.”

As a leader in organic manufacturing, Illinois is well placed to grow the sector, iFAB said by supporting the project led by IBRL in partnership with multinational food processing and commodity trading company Archer Daniels Midland Company; Food and Industrial Products Manufacturers, Primient; and organic corn and soybean producer Clarkson Grain Company. This visionary proposal aims to revolutionize synthetic biology and fermentation processing, driving economic growth and fostering innovation.

“Illinois is a top corn and soybean producer, and all of these precision fermentation processes have to be fed something,” Conerty said, pointing out that precision fermentation works the same way as making alcohol: Yeast has to be fed some form of carbohydrate — a Sugar – used to make beer or wine. Most fermentation processes use either corn-based sugar or glycerin, which is often a soy-derived product. As such, Illinois — Decatur in particular — is already primed and ready to serve as a commodity hub for an “over the fence” solution.

“The University of Illinois is just 45 minutes from this great infrastructure and right in the middle of all these commodities,” she continued. “There is great research and innovation [here] to further advance this industry.”

Synthetic biology, an emerging scientific discipline, focuses on the development of organisms with enhanced abilities to address practical challenges, including pollution clearance and improved resource use. Precision fermentation processing, central to synthetic biology, uses cutting-edge technology to convert plant-based raw materials into high-value raw materials, including high-performance materials. According to Innovate Illinois, the precision fermentation industry is expected to reach $11.8 billion by 2028 with the potential to create 1 million jobs by 2030, presenting an opportunity for the US to optimize its resources and improve global competitiveness.

“Innovate Illinois was designed to build a powerful coalition that combines its collective expertise to advance breakthrough technologies,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement. “Illinois is a leader in bioprocessing and quantum computing. Our continued leadership in these areas will help address global challenges and drive economic growth.”

If iFAB receives federal funding, it will need to consider about $500,000 to get started. If designated as a technology center, it is eligible to apply for a larger EDA grant, which averages a grant of between $50 million and $75 million in prize money of $65 million. And ultimately, iFAB would achieve what Conerty equated with the Green Industrial Revolution.

“It seems unlikely that we will ever compete with other countries for traditional manufacturing processes. These will not return to the United States,” she said. “But if we look at the next generation of manufacturing through the use of new technologies and the use of biology, nobody has necessarily said that before. This is a great approach to moving production back to the United States.” Illinois is in a Unique Position to Advance Biomanufacturing – Sourcing Journal

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