Your water bottle could soon be made from a type of sugar, courtesy of Renmatix.
The King of Prussia company takes biowaste and converts it into useful materials such as bioplastics.
So far, it counts Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates as a backer. He led a $14 million investment in the firm in September, saying Renmatix could help ease climate change by creating industrial fuels and even plastic bottles from plants.
Renmatix also notched deals with oil and chemical giants Total S.A. and BASF that secured a customer base and gave it a global presence.
The company persuaded former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker to join its team as senior vice president. His roles include bridging the public and private sectors on site development, financial partnerships, raw-materials procurement, and public affairs.
Renmatix, which is privately held, declined to disclose revenue or other results.
Its proprietary Plantrose process takes apart unused biomass waste and converts it into the nonfood organic sugars that are building blocks for chemicals and fuels.
While traditional firms rely on capital-intensive petroleum-based processes that can be highly polluting, Renmatix hopes to make fuels faster, cheaper, and cleaner by using plants.
Renmatix is part of the growing bioeconomy. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the $6.5 billion sector in Pennsylvania provided more than 151,000 jobs last year. Duke University professor Jay Golden, a coauthor of the report, ranked the Keystone State as the nation's fourth-largest bioproducts manufacturer, behind California, Georgia, and Texas.
Bioproducts include any biologically synthesized materials used in plastics, packaging, textiles, and refining. Pharmaceuticals and energy are excluded.
Such promise has drawn significant venture capital investment. Renmatix has attracted over $140 million in financing from investors and partners, also including the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
The company, founded in 2007, has 80 full-time employees and operations in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New York. Renmatix holds that Pennsylvania, especially the Philadelphia area, is an ideal location, given its proximity to universities and biobusinesses.
Golden said he found that the most successful states, such as Pennsylvania, not only provide financial incentives but actively promote companies through their department of commerce, engage universities on education, and support company recruiting efforts.
While President Obama promoted the bioeconomy, the incoming Trump administration is a bit of an unknown. And using agriculture to make fuel has been denounced as a boondoggle in the past.
Golden and Schweiker argue that the sector is a nonpartisan no-brainer, in part because its benefits may go far beyond fuels.
"The sector creates jobs in rural America where so many feel the pain of outsourced manufacturing jobs," said Golden, who directs Duke's center for sustainability and commerce.