Liberation Labs Ignites US Biomanufacturing Revolution

The biomanufacturing landscape in the United States is at a critical juncture. According to Mark Warner, CEO of Liberation Labs, the country’s existing biomanufacturing capacity, which averages 40 to 50 years old, was originally designed for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and biofuels. While these facilities can technically produce the next generation of bioproducts—ranging from enzymes and flavors to dairy proteins and agricultural biologics—they fall short in terms of scale and cost efficiency. Warner emphasized the need for modern facilities tailored to these emerging needs during a discussion at the SynBioBeta conference in San Jose.

Liberation Labs is stepping up to meet this challenge with the construction of a new biomanufacturing site in Richmond, Indiana. This state-of-the-art facility will boast 600,000 liters of capacity, specifically designed for precision fermentation. “The current network out there today is a legacy network,” Warner explained. “It averages 40-50 years old and was built for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and biofuels. It can make the products that these new technologies want to make, but it’s not making them at the scale or cost structure that’s needed.”

The Richmond facility represents a significant leap forward in biomanufacturing capabilities. Designed for both food and non-food applications, it features high oxygen transfer aseptic aerobic fermentation and a modern sterile design capable of running extended fermentations. The downstream recovery process is particularly advanced, incorporating multistage ceramic microfiltration, spiral wound ultrafiltration, evaporation, and agglomeration spray drying. “Honestly, in this environment, just to be able to go from sugar to final dried product on the same site, very few facilities can do that today, especially in the US,” Warner noted.

One of the standout features of the new site is its versatility. It can accommodate a broader range of organisms than most existing contract manufacturers. Warner highlighted the example of methanol-fed yeast Pichia Pastoris, a commonly used GRAS-approved organism in the US. “Very few of these legacy facilities can run it. It’s very hard to retrofit an old facility to accept methanol. When we look at the range of organisms out there, we’re confident we can host the majority of them,” he said.

Funding for this ambitious project has been a multifaceted endeavor. Liberation Labs has raised $36 million in equity, secured a $30 million equipment financing mechanism, and obtained a $25 million USDA loan guarantee. The company is also in the late stages of a fundraising effort expected to close in the $75 million range by mid-year. “We’re absolutely convinced that once we start hitting traditional return mechanisms, there’s plenty of money there. But we need to get those binding offtakes and acknowledge that everybody along the supply chain needs to make some margin,” Warner explained.

Interest in the Richmond facility has come from a diverse mix of startups and larger companies in both the food and non-food sectors. Warner expressed confidence that the facility would have ample backlog under contract by the time it becomes operational early next year. However, he acknowledged the challenges in achieving cost parity for commodity-type food proteins like casein and whey. “Food products, especially commodities like whey, are challenging, and need probably the bigger facility we have planned to really get to cost parity. But there’s a lot of other products, materials, infant formula components, agricultural biologics, that are already very profitable both for us and for the end user today,” he said.

Warner also touched on the various levers the industry can pull to drive efficiency, including strain improvements and continuous processing. “We’ve been impressed by the strain improvements we’ve seen over the last couple of years as we’ve talked to both startups and large CPG type companies,” he said. While continuous processing is often touted as a potential gamechanger, Warner emphasized that productivity is key. “A batch fermentation that gives me a high titer in one day could be better than a week-long continuous operation,” he noted.

As the biomanufacturing industry evolves, the need for modern, fit-for-purpose facilities becomes increasingly clear. Liberation Labs’ new site in Richmond, Indiana, represents a significant step forward, promising to meet the demands of the next generation of bioproducts with improved scale and cost efficiency.

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