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Lab to Develop New Bio-Based Sustainable Materials

Climate change illustration

(Pete Linforth, Pixabay.

23 May 2023. A venture investment fund and university bioengineering center are creating a laboratory to design more sustainable alternative materials to help address the climate crisis. The Collaborative Fund, based in New York is contributing $15 million to start the Laboratory for Sustainable Materials Research and Innovation, under the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

The new lab is expected to study and develop new types of materials that protect and conserve the environment with technologies such as synthetic biology and bio-manufacturing. Researchers at the lab, says the Wyss Institute, will investigate techniques for replacing fossil fuels in producing materials and substances used in textiles and plastics, but also found in food and energy products. A separate initiative in the lab plans to study processes for accelerating lab discoveries into commercial-scale solutions, which historically are under-funded and often not recognized among scientists or business people.

Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute, says in a statement that the Laboratory for Sustainable Materials Research and Innovation shows the bioengineering center recognizes the need to look beyond its usual medical and health studies. “We see this as a call-to-arms for our researchers and entrepreneurs working on problems in sustainability,” notes Ingber, “as well as a stimulus for other members of our community who are currently working in medical areas to pivot and apply their know-how in entirely new ways to meet this monumental challenge head-on.”

Out of the lab and into the marketplace

The Collaborative Fund is a network of venture capital managers that seeks out investment opportunities that combine both favorable returns and achieve a social good. In Aug. 2022, Collaborative Fund began its Collab SOS program, a $200 million fund to invest in the sustainable economy. Collab SOS expects to support start-ups developing environmentally-friendly materials, ingredients, and energy products as well as supply chains for these products. The fund plans to finance new companies in their first two full venture rounds, called series A and B, but also provide advice on moving their products and services out of the lab and into the marketplace.

In a Collaborative Fund blog post, the fund says it plans to support synthetic biology applied to materials science in its Wyss Institute partnership, particularly in consumer goods and heavy industry, considered major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. And as in the case of Collab SOS, the fund expects to share its insights into moving ideas from the lab into the marketplace. “We want to help accelerate the shift from research to real-world impact,” says Collaborative Fund partner Sophie Bakalar adding, “When it comes to climate change, there’s no time to waste.”

The Wyss Institute’s technology translation director Angelika Fretzen will share oversight of the new lab with Bakalar, also receiving an institute appointment as visiting scholar. The Institute says technology transfer from its research has so far resulted in 55 new start-up companies, 115 licensing deals, and more than 4,000 patent filings.

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