Some of the largest upcoming advances in chemical compounds and materials may stem from unexpectedly small sources: microbes like bacteria, yeast, and algae.
A new national research institute stands to put the Twin Cities at the epicenter of innovation for bioindustrial manufacturing, which uses engineered microbes to create entirely new materials or sustainable alternatives to existing materials. The Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem, or BioMADE, is an independent, nonprofit Manufacturing Innovation Institute established in late 2020 with $87.5 million in funding from the US Department of Defense and more than $180 million in support from nearly 100 industry and academic collaborators spanning 31 states.
BioMADE officially launched on April 28 and is headquartered on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, with a satellite office in Berkeley, CA.
“Bioindustrial manufacturing is making chemicals into the products around us using biology,” said Douglas Friedman, BioMADE CEO. “BioMADE is a group of companies, universities, and community colleges all focused on advancing these technologies together. Launching this new institute will catalyze the bioindustrial manufacturing industry across the US. In partnership with our members, we’ll secure America's future through manufacturing innovation, education, and collaboration.”
The institute will be housed in the College of Biological Sciences’ forthcoming Microbial Cell Production Facility, construction on which is scheduled to begin this fall. While BioMADE’s focus is to develop bioindustrial manufacturing methods across the nation, its location on campus will also greatly enhance the University’s leadership in developing this future economy and its corresponding workforce here in Minnesota, said UMN Vice President for Research Chris Cramer.
“The US bio-based economy is thriving at $1 trillion annually and some projections have it growing to as much as $4 trillion in worldwide impact annually over the next 10-20 years,” Cramer said in a news release. “This institute will ensure that this growing national industry is a key part of our Bold North economy. It will accelerate growth of our bioindustrial ecosystem, create jobs for a newly trained workforce, and add to and complement our current industries.”
Among the many areas that BioMADE and its member organizations may influence are agricultural products, chemicals, crop protection solutions, detergents, electronic films, fabrics, flavors, food additives, fragrances, plastics, polymers, reagents, and solvents.
Bridging the Gap
Researchers have long been working at the intersection of biology and manufacturing. At the University of Minnesota, examples include a MnDRIVE-supported project to develop coatings that prevent biocorrosion on ships and harbors and a University startup, Minnepura, that uses enzymes to purify drinking water and conserve swimming pool water. Outside of the University, industry leaders are developing fire-resistant composite materials for aerospace uses, next-generation biofuels, and films for electronic touch screens and circuit boards.
BioMADE’s mission is to help more of these innovations reach the market by bridging the gap between opposite ends of the industrial biomanufacturing ecosystem. On one end are startups and young companies that are creating innovative compounds but can only produce them in very small quantities. On the other end are large, established companies, which can produce compounds or raw materials at a very large scale.
By funding collaborative efforts across the country, BioMADE aims to move new biotechnology products from the lab to scaled production. Its unique role, Friedman noted, is not to manufacture products themselves, but to help develop the methods that will allow industry to then mass produce the products.
“BioMADE is here to propel technologies from the lab-scale to at-scale manufacturing,” he said. “We’re here to help those companies develop technologies—in partnership with academia and the federal government—to be able to make these goods for the benefit of society.”
BioMADE joins 15 other Manufacturing Innovation Institutes awarded by the federal government. Learn more about the BioMADE award or watch the recent BioMADE Launch event: