Capra Biosciences is scaling up their novel bioreactor technology to produce sustainable chemicals in Northern Virginia. This project was funded through a special BioMADE Project Call focused on advancing bioreactor design and development, thanks to support from Schmidt Futures. The expansion will jump start Virginia’s bioeconomy and place the state on the map for biochemical production.
The Manassas-based company uses a biofilm-forming microbe and its proprietary bioreactors to transform low-cost feedstocks, such as agricultural byproducts or food waste, into a variety of chemicals, including their first product, retinol.
“Our bioreactor platform is meant to handle small- or large-scale production of chemicals efficiently without a negative environmental impact,” said Dr. Andrew Magyar, Capra Biosciences’ chief technology officer. “We’ve already proved its potential on a smaller scale, and we’re excited to scale it for more chemicals and larger volumes. The new contract not only allows us to create a bigger facility, it also funds work with groundbreaking partners who will improve the efficiency and predictability of the bioreactors.”
The award comes amidst a larger national strategy to increase domestic manufacturing by harnessing the power of biology. In September, President Biden signed an Executive Order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation as part of a national effort to grow sustainable industries, to strengthen the nation’s economy, and to bring more manufacturing back home. In response to the Executive Order, the U.S. Department of Defense in September announced an investment of $1.2 billion in bioindustrial domestic manufacturing infrastructure to catalyze U.S. innovators. On 22 March, the Biden Administration’s Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) announced their bold initiative to produce 30% of the U.S. chemical demand via biomanufacturing within 20 years. Achieving these goals requires innovation in bioreactor hardware – precisely what Capra Biosciences delivers.
The project funding comes through BioMADE, a public-private partnership that is securing America’s future though bioindustrial manufacturing innovation, education, and collaboration. The BioMADE Project Call was supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that brings talented people together in networks to prove out their ideas and solve hard problems in science and society.
“The new Capra facility supports BioMADE’s mission to enable domestic bioindustrial manufacturing at scale,” said David Nathan, BioMADE senior program manager. “Many U.S. biochemical companies rely on foreign-based bioreactor facilities for manufacturing. The result is they can’t control the schedule and often must wait months to begin production. Capra’s bioreactor has the potential to help us make green biochemical production a reality in the U.S., which is good for our economy and for national security.”
Partnering for Success
As part of the project, Capra is partnering with researchers at Boston University (BU) and Next Rung Technology to further refine its processes and fine tune the waste-based feedstock for biochemical production.
BU’s eVOLVER platform will allow Capra to test small amounts of feedstock to better predict how well it will perform in creating the desired chemicals. This is critical because Capra uses feedstocks that can vary widely in composition depending on the source. BU will also develop advanced, miniaturized wireless sensors that will continuously monitor bioreactor performance and enable adaptive, real-time reactor control.
Next Rung Technology will apply its industrial biomanufacturing expertise to help design the manufacturing facility for sustainable operations.
“This funding gives us an amazing opportunity to partner with some of the smartest people in the industry to enhance our technology and refine and grow our manufacturing process,” said Elizabeth Onderko, Capra CEO. “Manassas is becoming increasingly well-known for its craft brewing and distilling, and we joke at Capra that soon it’s going to be even more famous for craft biochemistry.”
The pilot plant is expected to open in mid-2025.
Learn more here.