Spiber, a Japanese biomanufacturing startup, has secured a capital investment of ¥24.4 billion JPY in its latest round of funding, with offers from global companies like Carlyle and domestic ones like Cool Japan Fund Inc. Carlyle personally contributed ¥10 billion JPY, marking the company’s first investment in a Japanese startup. This comes on top of another ¥10 billion JPY capital raise from Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. Ltd. that will be available later this year, bringing the total to ¥34.4 billion JPY (approximately $313 million USD).
“We look forward to working closely with Spiber through this exciting growth phase as it prepares for an IPO and supporting the company to become one of the world’s leading biotech companies,” said Kazuhiro Yamada, the Managing Director and Head of Carlyle Japan.
Spiber’s collaboration with Carlyle is significant because it gives the material-maker access to Carlyle’s experience, sustainability expertise, supply chain management, and luxury brands. Carlyle has previously partnered with sustainability-focused companies like Jeanologia and Beautycounter, along with global brands like Moncler and Golden Goose. Carlyle however, has been accused of predatory practices surrounding company buyouts in the past, but with this investment being a minority stake, only time will tell how this partnership will evolve.
Spiber produces Brewed Protein through a microbial fermentation process. It is a bio-based, biodegradable, and animal-free synthetic protein that can be adapted as an alternative for wool, cashmere, fur, leather, silk, and other petroleum-based materials. The process is quite astonishing. As described by the Material Innovation Initiative, “First, the code for the desired protein is inserted into microorganisms (usually yeast). Using the necessary sugars and minerals, these microorganisms grow the desired protein in a bioreactor. After fermentation is complete, the protein is purified and dried into a pellet or powder. Brewed Protein can then be processed into a variety of materials.”
Brewed Protein consumes less resources and produces lower rates of greenhouse gas emissions, based on Spiber’s preliminary testing. Regarding its impact on marine life, because it is plastic-free, the materials will not break down into tiny microplastics that then damage our ocean ecosystems.
“Spiber has the ability to create bespoke proteins that may enable suites of next-gen materials to outperform current natural and synthetic fibers,” says Dr. Sydney Gladman, the Chief Science Officer of the Material Innovation Initiative.
Spiber has also integrated environmentally conscious aspects into its organizational structures, with a dedicated sustainability team and initiatives to facilitate eco-friendly material production. It has an in-house biodegradability testing and impact evaluation system to further R&D its products’ effectiveness and impact.
After nearly 15 years of work, Spiber has established itself as a major player in protein biomaterials, and it’s now turning its attention to expansion, with plants in Thailand and Iowa being prepared for mass production. The Thailand plant is slated to begin commercial operation in 2021 with a soft target of several hundred tonnes a year, while the Iowa facility is scheduled to start production in 2023.
As the company states, Spiber is dedicated to working with “designers, creators, and top-tier companies .. to bring the next state of the protein revolution to fruition.” So far, it has worked extensively with The North Face, couture designer YUIMA NAKAZATO, as well as a brief project with sacai.
This Japanese biotech company comes alongside a number of other companies seeking to replace deadly microplastics, however the widespread monetary support and ability to scale makes Spiber’s development something to watch.
In other design news, Herman Miller has reimagined its iconic Aeron chair with ocean plastic waste.