The scientific concept that microbes living in extreme temperatures or toxic conditions could yield more effective industrial enzymes has moved several steps closer to reality. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have produced enzymes from these microbes, called extremophiles, that can replace chemicals used in biofuel production, paper pulping and operations in the textile and food processing industries, among others.
LBNL researchers, funded by the DOE Office of Science, first sought to understand how microbes from hot acidic pools in Yellowstone National Park could thrive. Their work led to a technology that harnessed biodegradable, stable, acid- and heat-resistant enzymes from the microbes. Seeing the potential across a range of industrial applications, researchers Jill Fuss and Steve Yannone founded a startup – Cinder Biological, or CinderBio – and licensed the LBNL technology. Along the path to commercializing their technology, the CinderBio team earned a semi-finalist spot in the UC Berkeley b-plan competition and placed third in the FLoW DOE National Clean Energy Business Plan competition.
In 2015, supported by a Phase 1 SBIR grant, the team conducted field trials cleaning dairy processing equipment, using the enzymes in place of industry-standard chemicals. As a result, water use was reduced by almost 30%, and biofilms from food processing operations were removed quickly and effectively. CinderBio continues to develop the technology in an incubator lab space in Berkeley with an eye to refining food processing industry applications to reduce chemical waste and yield reclaimable wastewater in place of the chemical wastewater typically hauled offsite. In the future, the enzymes may be applied to biofuel production and the paper pulping and textile industries.
2020 update: The National Institutes of Health awarded CinderBio a $1.6M Phase II SBIR to commercialize its proteomics enzymes over the next two years. These proteomics enzymes have potential clinical and diagnostic applications. The mass-spectrometry based proteomics market is projected to be worth over $10B by 2022.