Innovators Dilemma Revisited in Renewable Chemicals and Materials
by Daniel Lane and Joel Stone (Lee Enterprises Consulting, Inc./Biofuels Digest) … These disruptive technology innovations have happened many times throughout history and are discussed in the popular book The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. He coined the phrase in describing a process by which a product or service moves up market in a step change and displaces established competitors; and highlights characteristics of these innovations, such as lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products or services that may not appear attractive when compared against traditional metrics. More recent examples of these innovations include 3D printing, LED light bulbs, flat-panel displays, digital media (including MP3s and streaming video), and CRISPR genome editing techniques.
For those unfamiliar with CRISPR, it is technology that allows simplified genome editing. Compared to earlier genome editing tools, CRISPR is fast and cheap and as a result, it is revolutionizing the synthetic biology industry. This technology will impact agriculture, renewable chemicals, as well as pharma, biofuels and food ingredients. It provides the ability to target and study particular DNA sequences in an enormous genome, with unprecedented ease. In industrial biotech, that means that ability to improve microbial production strains to produce new enzymes and biochemicals.
The investments in synthetic biology have ramped up quickly over that past three years and this trend is likely to continue and vastly impact how the chemical industry will evolve to step wise changes in performance and specialty chemicals and materials.
Many synthetic biology companies are focusing their efforts on applying these new technologies to production of bio-based materials by fermentation, but they aren’t in the manufacturing industry. Similarly, there are companies that are determined to bio-produce industrial chemicals, but do not have the depth of capabilities that the synthetic biology companies have. Both of these groups have the potential to create a technology that will produce a high value chemical or specialty ingredient, in some cases not previously available from renewable, bio-based, or natural sources; in some cases, not previously available by fermentative methods. There will be an increasing need for engineers, scientists, and commercial business savvy professionals to fill a gap of determining cost and capital efficient ways to scale the science of these developments from the bench and digital biology concept to the commercial product and delivery.
Synthetic biology (or what is being coined digital biology) technology is accelerating and soon will become more common; and it is likely that it will supplant other established technologies.
With the rapid growth of the synthetic biology industry and the advent of tools such as CRISPR, it is becoming easier to take an idea and outsource its development. Early-stage companies can collaborate with synthetic biology platform providers to develop fermentative organisms that produce desired bioproducts, then work with engineering and operations experts that understand how to scale up technologies and progress to commercial production with a production collaboration partner as well as a business deployment partner. READ MORE