LA JOLLA – A San Diego-headquartered company is taking bold, clean steps to ensure that the world has a sustainable, healthy future.
Future Origins, a joint venture spun out of sustainable materials biotech Genomatica (Geno), announced its official launch Jan. 31. The company, which has been in development at Geno along with partners Unilever, Kao Corporation and L’Oréal since 2022, is commercializing substitutes for ingredients that have historically been derived from palm oil in the formulations of cosmetics, personal care items and cleaning products.
Palm oil creates negative environmental impacts that include the clearing of large areas of tropical forests for oil palm plantations, which leads to the loss of biodiversity, and with that a cascading effect on ecosystems. Deforestation for palm oil cultivation also releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a contributor to global warming and climate change.
Future Origins CEO John Gugel, also president at Geno, said the company has been able to scale quickly in the two last years with Geno and its heavyweight partners combining resources and expertise to produce lasting sustainable surfactant solutions with speed and at scale.
Future Origins will use Geno’s proven fermentation-based technology and engineered microorganisms to make surfactants. The process involves using sugars from plant-based feedstock and fermenting the glucose to produce molecules identical to ingredients derived from palm oil (and fossil fuels) turning them into more sustainable surfactants for countless consumer products used globally.
Gugel likened the process of its creation to “what goes on at a microbrewery, but a really big one.”
Leveraging its science to catalyze industrial crops, Future Origins allows businesses the opportunity to make their same products with lower environmental impacts than those associated with more traditional production methods.
The high-volume “drop-in” replacement ingredients created to eliminate the need for palm oil in Future Origins customers’ product formulations will have a significantly lower carbon footprint than their current counterparts.
Future Origins’ approach and drop ins result in products that perform as good or better than they do presently, while aligning with increasing regulatory requirements and corporate commitments for a deforestation-free supply chain, Gugel said.
Tons of Material
The company’s product development activities are achieving important benchmarks. Recently completed 63,000-liter pilot-scale fermentation runs have produced several tons of material, a fraction of which was further processed to make detergent alcohols.
Future Origins is shipping these products to commercial partners for use in a variety of applications. The run provides critical data necessary for the design of its first commercial plant, anticipated to start operations in less than five years, according to Gugel.
“We are developing and scaling up this technology to build the first commercial plant as fast as possible,” Gugel said, hinting that it will likely be in the United States corn belt.
Gugel said the plan is to have the plant up and running by 2028. He also acknowledged the need for at least two more commercial plants in the future.
The plant will not only be an important source of local economic benefits by providing jobs but is also crucial to Future Origins’ aim of producing at speed and scale for maximum impact to global businesses.
“Our goal is to provide sustainable ingredients to the widest range of customers as we can,” Gugel said. “We’re not a closely held joint venture. Our products are going to be available on a global scale whether the customers are large, multinational consumer products groups or small players. We’re actively engaged right now seeking additional partners and we welcome the opportunity to work with more companies. Our vision is really to scale this business quickly.”
He said the company’s business plan calls for building enough capacity of this technology to avoid the CO2 equivalent of 150,000 passenger cars per year and more than 1 million acres of deforestation within the next 10 years.
“To give you a frame of reference, that million acres is an area equivalent to the state of Rhode Island,” he said. “That’s really impactful. That actually will move the needle. It’s meaningful. So that’s what I think it inspires us every day to keep working really hard to make this happen.”
Gugel said the company has developed programs to engage other potential partners, including an early access program that “provides opportunities for customers to get their hands on samples of our materials so that they can test them in their formulations.”
He said Future Origins can also make available to companies pre-commercial volumes so they could develop prototype product offerings and test their products with customers.
Dr. Priti Pharkya, senior vice president of business operations at Future Origins, said the company has been actively reaching out other possible collaborators.
“Besides testing our material, we are looking to find partners that complement us in the value chain, right from the feedstock all the way to the CPGs who interact with the final consumers.
“There’s still more work to be done, so at this stage we are pursuing multiple work streams in parallel so that maybe we can line them up and this includes, besides the technology development piece, selecting the site right where is this plant is going to be built.”
Gugel said the work Future Origins is doing is of growing interest to consumers interested in the health of the planet, consumers who also have access to “more information than they’ve ever had about ingredients and how things are made.”
“We believe they’ll like what they see when they take the time to learn how we produce our materials,” he said.
CEO: John Gugel
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
EMPLOYEES: 8, including advisors; investor Geno’s technical team develops and scales up technology for the company
SOCIAL IMPACT: Future Origins’ high-volume drop-in replacement ingredients have a significantly lower carbon footprint than their current counterparts and help to ensure companies are meeting commitments for a deforestation-free, traceable supply chain.
NOTABLE: Recent 63,000-liter pilot-scale fermentation runs have produced several tons of material.