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Bio-based sector sees mixed coronavirus impact

“There is the one main reported impact so far regarding the closure of production, due to people not being able to go to work.”

The coronavirus pandemic has had a mixed impact on the bio-based sector, with some businesses helping with technological solutions to help fight the outbreak, while others appear to see growing demand for products like biodegradable takeaway packaging. However, in general, many production lines have closed because of the crisis.

Italy-based fibre manufacturer Aquafil produces ocean plastic-based nylon via its Econyl brand in China and is one bio-based firm that has kept production lines running despite the Covid-19 outbreak.

Giulio Bonazzi (@GiBonazzi), President and CEO of Aquafil (@AquafilSpa) , said the company’s main priority was the safety of its staff and it had taken extra measures to protect its employees, customers and suppliers.

He added: “We are working hard to ensure the safety of our personnel worldwide, in addition to the continuity of production, while applying the most effective safety levels everywhere in accordance with local legislation. Thanks to the strict respect of the safety rules, in our plant in China we have kept working while safeguarding the safety of all our employees since the outbreak of the epidemic.”

Tens of millions of people in cities across the globe have found themselves under some form of lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic and many restaurants and entertainment venues have shutdown. Yet, some restaurants have been allowed to remain open and operate delivery takeaway services. Wouter Moekotte, CEO and founder of compostable packaging firm Bio Futura (@BioFutura), said that his Netherlands-based company is continuing its operations and is “all set to supply biodegradable take-away packaging to those creative and persistent restaurants who switch to delivery”.

Earlier this week, a BBC London News report also maintained that some London cafes had switched from offering reusable cups to their customers to biodegradable ones. Coffee chain giant Starbucks (@Starbucks) had temporarily suspended the use of reusable personal cups in its stores due to Covid-19. However, in a separate announcement not related to the pandemic, Starbucks said it had started trials of compostable cups in selected stores.

Although companies like Aquafil and Bio Futura are continuing production, other firms which rely on China, which is the country where the outbreak started, are likely to feel the most strain across their supply chains.

Technological solutions

However, to put a silver lining into a negative situation, biotechnology companies have recognised that they need to find technological solutions to Covid-19. Earlier this week, US-based Ginkgo Bioworks (@Ginkgo) announced that it had offered $25 million to biotech companies who were working on building the treatments to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

In a statement, Ginkgo said that the funds would be put towards projects that could use Ginkgo’s platform to accelerate development of point of care diagnostics, vaccines, or therapeutics.

The company is also helping to connect partners to sources of funding from private and public stakeholders. Specifically, it stressed that it was coordinating with people like Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sam Altman (@sama) and “others on private funding efforts.” Ginkgo is also helping to share R&D information with academics and companies working on solutions.

UK-based synthetic biology company Synthace (@synthace) also has tools to help the development of solutions to tackle Covid-19. In a statement, the company said its software was available for free to groups developing therapies, diagnostics or production optimisation in the fight against Covid-19. CEO Tim Fell said: “The software enables flexible programming and control of lab automation and our users have deployed it to accelerate the optimisation of biologics production (through design of experiments), to optimise and automate assays (including qPCR) and to rapidly assemble DNA constructs.”

US-based bioengineering and bionics company EnhKnow is also helping to develop technological solutions to stop Covid-19. Managing director Opubo G. Benebo told Bio Market Insights (BMI): “We determine the types of mutations that will occur and find out when they could occur, so that vaccines can be developed in anticipation of the mutations. Because virus infections have long-term effects on the body like chickenpox causing shingles, and the Spanish Influenza causing Parkinson-like diseases, humanity needs to be aware of the long-term effects of Covid-19.”

Working from home

Despite some companies giving cause for optimism in this difficult situation, in general, the Coronavirus has hit everybody hard.

David Newman, managing director at Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (@bbi_uk), told BMI that the overall situation was sad, adding: “There is the one main reported impact so far regarding the closure of production, due to people not being able to go to work. Italy, the (world’s) main bioplastic producer, is totally closed down.”

BMI understands from a source close to the synthetic biology sector that some labs have closed down as well due to Covid-19.

In addition to this, the global economy is in a sharp downturn, which is likely to turn into a steep recession. Investors know this. Hence, stock markets have fallen precipitously in the past month. This is potentially likely to have an impact on some small to medium-sized bio-based businesses. Yet, some governments across the world are ensuring that there is enough liquidity around.

Nevertheless, overall, coronavirus shutdowns have created unintended climate benefits, including cleaner air and a drop in CO2 emissions.

Separately, many organisations are continuing to run their businesses remotely, whilst the deadly Covid-19 spreads. The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (@rsb_org) said it was aiming to provide more virtual opportunities to engage with its sustainability members, adding: “On a very practical front, to ensure your uninterrupted ability to build your sustainable supply chains we have developed an interim RSB guidance in terms of the audit schedule and Covid-19 outbreak. Ensuring the health and safety of all people/staff involved in RSB audits is a priority, and in line with the RSB principles.”


In the light of the COVID 19 pandemic, BMI wants to send a message of solidarity to everyone whose life has been turned upside down. We hope you are safe, supported and are finding your own way to get through this unprecedented outbreak. 

If you were interested in this bioeconomy story, you may also be interested in the stories below.

Read: Starbucks temporarily bans reusable cups over coronavirus concerns

Read: Starbucks unveils trials for compostable cups

Read: Ginkgo Bioworks to use $290m Series E financing to boost cell programming platform.

Read: Ginkgo Bioworks invests $80m in Synlogic.

Read: Gingko Bioworks spin-out firm Motif Ingredients rebrands and raises $27.5m to boost animal-free ingredients R&D.

Read: Disruptive technology investor invests in bean-free coffee start-up.

Read:  Novalis LifeSciences raises $85m for its first fund and will invest in life science industry, including synthetic biology companies.

Read: 5 Minutes With…Kate Krueger from New Harvest.

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