Bioengineering has become more popular as new technologies develop. Its uses range from improving agricultural systems to electronic devices and inspiring medical breakthroughs. Particularly, there is one company that is delving into many industries with their bioengineering methods: Zymergen.
American company Zymergen is a great, modern example of how the bioengineering industry is evolving and becoming a part of all industries. The name “Zymergen” is a mashup of three terms: zymurgy (study of fermentation) + merge + genomics. According to their site, “the word merge is embedded in the name, because we bring together different technical disciplines; life science with electronics, biology with chemistry and material science.” Zymergen’s biggest ally, nature, is the building block for everything they make.
And they’re not just talking the talk. The resulting product of what happens when you merge biology with engineering is applicable to almost any emerging technology. Zymergen is dipping its toes all across the board, solving issues through biology and creating new and sustainable products, like flexible phone screens and safer insect repellents. The company aspires to scale up depending on the result of how else these technologies can be applied and how bio materials can be made with a low impact on the environment.
Zymergen prides itself on “biofacturing”, which is the creation of products and materials through and by nature, removing the “manu” from the term because it cannot be hand-crafted. Using genomics, machine learning and automation as its pillars, Zymergen scans through the vast amount of molecules in nature, sorts them out and produces more of them with biology, to later scale them to market at full-speed. This results in a production in half the time and at a tenth of the cost of traditional methods—without energy-intensive processes, toxic chemicals, and massive infrastructure, according to the founders. Through this method of bioengineering, the California-based company uses biology to reimagine the world. With their patented platform, they can find biomolecules to shape them into the bases for a new generation of faster, cheaper, and greener products.
Zymergen is first focusing on electronics, as we’ll see more below with their Hyaline Z2, but they hope to apply the same biofacturing approach to create green and sustainable solutions applicable to agriculture, consumer care, and more. Some of their current projects include foldable electronics, bacteria that eat plastic, an insect repellent as effective as it is natural, and solutions to help farmers protect their crops to feed a growing global population.
Through their three-step platform process, the company made an incredible discovery: Hyaline, a new polymer innovation. According to the Zymergen team, “Hyaline is a family of breakthrough polyimide films that deliver a premier balance of properties. Each Hyaline film can be tuned to a unique combination of high transparency, high temperature resistance, and robust mechanical properties that give electronics manufacturers unprecedented design freedom”.
In 2020, the company Hyaline Z2, the first of their electronic films. Inspired by biology to deliver premier properties, Hyaline films aim to free product developers from the limits of traditional petrochemistry, and in return, give the capability to design a brand new generation of electric devices, like foldable phones that don’t break and displays with MicroLED, the latest LED technology. Like Hyaline Z2, Zymergen also created ZYM0101, another optically clear film but with a balance of strength, thermal stability, and flexibility. This film aims to be stronger, more transparent, more temperature resistant, and thinner than competing products, according to the company. This film focuses more on the flexibility aspect, and is expected to come to the market in 2023 in new flexible phones and tablets.
In 2021, the company is working towards an improved version of the Hyaline Z2 and its sibling product the ZYM0101, which both are ideal for electronic applications where optical clarity is the main goal. However, they noted that other companies needed an electronic polyimide film where the key aspect is not the optical clarity but rather maintaining integrity of the film at high temperature without compromising any property. They played with Hyaline Z2’s thermal properties and used it as a base to create a third Hyaline film, ZYM0107. This new and improved film in development is high temperature-tolerant and soldering-compatible. It’s promised to be the ideal partner for MicroLED, which according to some trends, could replace OLED as the reigning champion of digital picture quality. The new film could also see further applications beyond the screens: it could be used for printable electronics, or even satellite solar panels. Zymergen is hoping to bring ZYM0107 to market in 2022.
Zymergen’s R&D process through their three-step platform is a true defining component for the future of the company. Average R&D processes are quite slow, which gives Zymergen an upper hand. With our climate emergency worsening by the second, bioengineering companies are working as fast as they can to produce sustainable and innovative alternatives. With biodesigned microbes and molecules that are easily and quickly put through this phase to ensure quality materials, Zymergen’s R&D proves to be a helping hand, not to mention the environmental impact of product development is much lower.
“My personal motives and the motives of the people that work for Zymergen are to make the world more sustainable,” says Zach Serber, co-founder of Zymergen. “We expect the bioeconomy is going to be the most important economic change in the world in the 21st century. But it is not going to happen overnight, of course. How do we maintain the quality of human life and civilization while delivering products and experiences that people seek and crave while staying sustainable?”
With more and more development in the bioengineering industry, we can expect for more companies to make a shift in their providers and processes. With more confidence in biology, we can prove that the future can be sustainable and remarkable.