Interview between Biome Bioplastics and Thomas Swan on novel FDCA-based polymers

23 March 2023
Interview between Biome Bioplastics and Thomas Swan on novel FDCA-based polymers

Last November, we announced our collaboration with Thomas Swan, one of the UK’s leading chemical manufacturers, to bring novel FDCA-based polymers to market. After nine years of significant work by our scientists, engineers and supporting partners, our collaboration with Thomas Swan is a substantial step towards industrialisation. We recently sat down with our Project Engineer John Ryan and Simon Grant, Technical Director at Thomas Swan, and asked them to share their experiences and insights into the project.

Why did Biome and Thomas Swan start this collaboration?

John: We’ve worked for years to bring novel, bio-based polymers to market. Now we’re at the stage where we’re taking one of the FDCA-based polymers from lab quantities to a much larger scale. This is where Thomas Swan and its long experience naturally come in. We’ve kept the company’s team in the loop about our progress, and when we realised we were ready to scale up, those discussions intensified. As a result, we soon decided to embark on this journey together.

Simon: We’ve been manufacturing a range of specialty chemicals and polymers since 1926. Innovation is one of our company values which we use to scale-up new chemistries. One of our strategic targets is to achieve net zero carbon by 2030, which will result in our increasing use bio-based raw materials. The scale-up of Biome’s innovative polymers is a great strategic fit for both companies.

What’s the goal of the project?

John: At Biome, we’re working every day to commercialise bio-based materials. This project is part of our wider strategy. We’re taking our polymers from lab-scale to industrial-relevant quantities. This is quite a challenge because what works on a small-scale needs to be adapted for commercial manufacturing processes. So it’s very much diving into the unknown.

That’s why having an experienced partner by our side is excellent.

Can you share anything on the progress?

Simon: Initial manufacturing trials of Biome’s novel polymer were completed in late 2022 and have provided good learning and experience from both a process and product perspective. We will apply this learning to our next trials, scheduled for Q2 2023, which will investigate grade extension to enable the use of Biome’s polymer in different markets and applications.

What things have you learned so far during the collaboration?

Simon: Our track-record of scale-up of new chemistries and processes meant that we have the skills, knowledge and expertise to address the technical challenges posed by the transfer of the Biome’s polymer process from laboratory to plant scale.
Our net zero carbon target puts sustainability at the centre of our strategy and the manufacture of a bio-derived polymer product is a great strategic fit.

John: Thomas Swan’s commitment to sustainability sets them apart from other manufacturers. As we commercialise bio-based materials, this is of utmost importance to us. Simon’s team was extremely helpful in assisting us with standardising processes and building robust systems. The company’s years of experience really paid off in this respect.

Simon: Biome had successfully produced the polymers at a lab-scale. However, having a fresh view questioning certain assumptions is very fruitful. This also helps us to improve continuously while maintaining our firm commitment to safety. Our experience from this project will open up opportunities for similar projects.

What’s been your highlight of the collaboration so far?

John: It was undoubtedly our manufacturing trials in December, as it was great to see the first real attempt to scale up the materials. It’s a beautiful feeling to see the results of something you’ve worked on for so long.

Simon: Whilst the manufacturing trials were a technical highlight, I would probably say that how both companies have worked together over those last few years is my highlight. From the initial discussions to successful trials could only have been achieved by a positive collaboration where ideas are challenged and solutions to problems found and implemented.

So what’s next?


We’ll continue to run more tests this spring, gradually increasing the quantities we’ll produce. We’ll keep you updated on the results.