Holiferm, the University of Manchester biotech spin out based at Sci-Tech Daresbury, is set to take its work in developing environmentally friendly biosurfactants for use in detergents and toiletries to the next level following the announcement of a significant funding boost to build a commercial plant.
Surfactants are a key ingredient in the manufacture of detergents and personal care products, but current mainstream goods primarily use petrochemical and tropical oil-based surfactants, which cause significant harm to the environment.
While environmentally-friendly products in this sector do exist, they use a costly yeast-based batch fermentation process. Holiferm has developed an approach which allows this yeast-based approach to be carried out as a semi-continuous process, allowing the delivery of green products to the mass market at a competitive price point.
At the start of 2021, Holiferm launched its new pilot plant at Sci-Tech Daresbury and its headcount has increased from seven to 16 since then. The company’s long-term vision is to develop a range of sustainable, green biosurfactants that will remove the global surfactant market's dependency on petrochemicals. It is one of the growing cluster of materials companies on the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus.
The $7M investment round, led by US VC firm Rhapsody Ventures, demonstrates industry confidence in Holiferm will enable the company to build a world leading biosurfactant manufacturing facility, as well as support its entry into US chemical markets.
Focusing initially on sophorolipid production for Holiferm’s existing customers and distributors, such as MixCleanGreen, and Eurosyn, Holiferm is also set to launch new biosurfactant products and is working in collaboration with BASF on the next two molecules in its pipeline.
Sophorolipids are a class of biosurfactants that provide excellent properties for formulations produced by cleaning, cosmetic and agricultural formulators. They are produced by fermentation using a naturally occurring yeast originally found in honey, not requiring the genetically modified organisms some other biosurfactants require.
The new commercial plant is earmarked for location in Wallasey within the Liverpool City Region. The site will manufacture 1,100 tonnes of biosurfactant a year and it is anticipated the investment programme overall will create over 30 new jobs.
Richard Lock, managing director of Holiferm, said: “We’re trying to redefine what chemical manufacturing means. There’s a great misconception that it has to entail huge power stations and industrial plants, but we use a process that is completely green. We are working with a molecule that has been designed not by humans, but by nature. This fundraising round is another landmark moment in our quest to bring biosurfactants to the mass market. Rhapsody Venture Partners have so much experience and they match our drive and commitment in this endeavour, so we are excited to be working with them.”
Steve Rotheram, metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “When I launched my £75m Business Growth Package in 2019, it was to try and attract innovative and expanding new businesses like Holiferm to our city region. I didn’t want us to rest on our laurels – at the time we were the fastest growing region in the country – but to keep pushing to do better.
“We continued that support throughout the pandemic. I am proud that local leaders and I did all that we could to protect jobs and businesses, while trying to create new ones and attract fresh investment. As we can see with Holiferm’s expansion within our region, it is an approach that has really borne fruit.
“And of course, tackling climate change is a major priority for us – something we’ll be showcasing at COP26 in Glasgow. We want our local economy to be built on fantastic, innovative businesses that invest in local people and help us to reach our ambitious net zero targets.”
Jason Whaley, general partner at Rhapsody Venture Partners, said: “Holiferm's technology allows, for the first time, the production of clean and natural cleaning ingredients at a scale that makes them widely available to all consumers. At Rhapsody, we are excited by this potential and grateful for the opportunity to support the scale-up and manufacture of these products and to advance the biochemical industry generally.”
Peter van Gelderen, general partner at co-investor Icos Capital, said: “We are very pleased with the fast progress that Holiferm has made, from breakthrough technology company in 2019, to a biosurfactant production company in 2021. They are already selling product and now ready to scale up and sell to chemical and FMGC companies worldwide that are committed to reducing carbon footprint and switching to bio-based ingredients for a wide range of applications.”
John Downes, chief executive officer of Langtree and chairman of Sci-Tech Daresbury, said: “We were very proud to welcome Holiferm earlier this year to our growing group of materials companies on campus, and this recent fundraising round is testament to the groundbreaking work it is undertaking. The connections it has been able to capitalise on a result of our world class science facilities and collaborative culture have been crucial to this latest milestone in its development, and we look forward to supporting Richard and his team on the next step of Holiferm’s journey.”
Holiferm’s presence at Sci-Tech Daresbury was supported by a £400,000 grant from the Inward Investment Facilitation Fund (I2F2) set up as part of the £75m Business Growth Package introduced by Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region.