Green chemistry: METabolic EXplorer is becoming an industrial and commercial company
Based on renewable raw materials, METabolic EXplorer (METEX) develops and industrialises innovative and competitive industrial fermentation processes as alternatives to petrochemical processes. . Its biobased functional ingredients are used in the formulations of cosmetics, animal health & nutrition products and as intermediates in the synthesis of biomaterials. The construction of its first production unit via its subsidiary METEX NØØVISTA will lead to market availability of propanediol (PDO) and butyric acid (BA). It is an investment of 48 million euros marking a real turning point in the company’s development.
A WORD FROM…
Benjamin GONZALEZ, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of METabolic EXplorer
When and how did the METabolic EXplorer story begin?
As is so often the case, the project began with a chance meeting. During my engineering studies in Clermont-Ferrand, I crossed paths with a real visionary, Michel RENAUD, who, after an initial adventure in the world of industry, joined Auvergne University to lead the commercialisation of research. At the time, the development and proficiencies gained in biotechnology techniques made it possible to exploit the diversity of living organisms to meet the essential challenges in areas such as health, agriculture, nutrition and, subsequently, the environment. It was against this background that he convinced me to join his laboratory to take a doctorate in technology transfer. And this is how I founded METEX, based on the idea that fermentation could provide an alternative industrial response to production systems based on the exploitation of fossil resources, for an alternative and more sustainable solution for the production of everyday objects.
In its beginnings, the company was located at the university itself, which provided office space in order to benefit from the material resources and know-how of the laboratories in addition to legal and administrative support. After this incubation phase, we moved to Biopôle-Clermont-Limagne in Saint-Beauzire, near Clermont-Ferrand.
What are the milestones and major projects that have accompanied the growth of your company?
The most difficult thing for biotechnology companies like ours is to manage the commercialisation of innovations at a level that justifies the significant investment associated with long R&D cycles.
For my part, the key milestones in our company’s history are the contracts signed with industrial entities, the first of which was a development contract worth several million euros signed in 2005.
The technical successes we achieved enabled us in 2007 to complete the first IPO on Euronext of an industrial biotechnology company. It was a major success with nearly €60m raised which we used to widen our portfolio of innovations and expand our developments by acquiring an industrial demonstrator.
We were therefore able to develop the production process of the first 100% naturally-sourced L-Methionine, an essential amino acid for animal growth, and a production process for PDO (1,3 Propanediol) and Butyric Acid (BA), respectively aimed at the cosmetics and animal nutrition markets.
In 2016, these technical successes led to the sale of the L-Methionine production process via fermentation to the German chemicals company EVONIK, the global market leader in this segment, for €45m. Boosted by this fresh success, a few months later we signed an agreement with the SPI fund of Bpifrance to found a joint venture, METEX NØØVISTA, exclusively dedicated to the construction and operation of a PDO and BA production plant. This €48m investment at the CHEMESIS platform of Carling St-Avold in the department of Moselle marks a milestone in the history of METEX, which is now becoming an industrial and commercial company.
How has the Grand Est region supported you?
We decided to invest at the CHEMESIS platform in Carling St-Avold for reasons of geography (raw materials and finished product logistics), for economic reasons (competitive access to the industrial utilities and services shared by the industrial operators at the platform) and for human reasons. . A key factor in our decision was also the support received from regional stakeholders, all motivated by the desire to enable the first biological chemistry company to establish itself at the platform.
The Grand Est region is notably one of the first French regions to place the bioeconomy at the heart of its economic development strategy, having clearly expressed its desire to facilitate the development of bioindustry within its territory.
This led to tangible financial support for the first location feasibility studies in June 2017 and extended into the construction of our production unit at the Saint-Avold platform which, despite the health crisis, is scheduled to commence in Q2 2021 with the creation of 50 direct jobs.
What are your development plans for the future?
As far as METEX NØØVISTA is concerned, the €48m investment is for the first industrial phase to create a capacity of 5,000 tonnes of PDO and 1,000 tonnes of BA. We have already reserved the land required to increase the plant’s capacity in order to meet the high market demand for these two functional ingredients, with the ambition of becoming the global market leader in non-GMO PDO for the cosmetics sector and the French market leader in naturally-sourced BA for the animal nutrition sector.
Regarding METabolic EXplorer, we have multiple processes in development of which the most advanced is the production of Glycolic Acid (GA), currently undergoing industrial demonstration at our site in Saint-Beauzire. Exclusively produced by the petrochemicals industry, this acid is used in cosmetics, especially in anti-ageing creams. It is our objective to industrialise this process in late 2021 and to industrialise one fermentation process each year from 2022.
Photo credit: Jérôme PALLE