Infinite Possibilities

Introducing the unlimited potential
of tailored protein materials

Fiber/Textile

The Protein Era
A Revolution in Manufacturing

The shimmering wings of a butterfly. Cashmere wool with unmatched fineness. Spider silk 340 times tougher than steel. These examples represent just a fraction of the incredible diversity of protein materials. By modifying the DNA sequences that code for our proteins, we have the ability to produce limitless varieties of materials with unprecedented versatility.
In the future, proteins will be widely used as a basic industrial material, just as metals, glass, and plastics are used today. Together with our partners, we have the vision, the drive and the determination to usher in a new age of manufacturing.

Background11 years
of technological innovation

Cost Barrier

Presently, synthetic protein materials do not enjoy widespread adoption due largely to the issue of cost. As an example, it is often said within the fermentation industry that producing genetically modified proteins via microbial fermentation for less than $100 per kilogram is extremely difficult. We call this phenomenon the ‘Hundred Dollar Barrier.’ To put this figure into context, analysis of the global polymer market suggests that the threshold for widespread adoption of a material is approximately $20-30 per kilogram. Gaining access to larger markets—those in excess of ten billion dollars—requires lowering the cost to less than $10 per kilogram. The gap between the cost of proteins produced via fermentation and the cost necessary to attain widespread adoption is vast, and pioneering a new market requires massive investment. These factors are responsible for the dearth of synthetic protein materials on the market today.

Innovative Solutions

Overcoming the high cost of synthetic protein materials was considered by some to be a nearly impossible task. Spiber has spent the last ten years working to solve this problem, developing cutting edge technologies and pursuing increased efficiency in our protein design and production process.
When we started, there was no single team in the world that possessed all of the necessary technology and know-how to address the considerable challenge of producing synthetic protein materials at commercial scale. Undaunted, we set about designing our own solutions from scratch. These included technologies for designing proteins, gene synthesis and recombination, fermentation and purification, and spinning and processing. While developing these core technologies in-house, we broke down barriers of specialization and built a research environment conducive to interdisciplinary thinking. Even now, we are confronted daily by a myriad of problems spanning multiple technological domains, but we remain dedicated to developing ever more sophisticated and streamlined approaches in order to achieve lower costs. The result of all this hard work is enormous: compared to when we started in 2008, we have dramatically increased productivity and decreased costs, bringing us to a place where large scale adoption of protein materials is finally becoming a reality.

Five Step Feedback Cycle

  • 1. Molecular Design

    Our protein manufacturing process starts with the bioinformatic analysis of genetic code and amino acid sequences. Based on this analysis, we then design molecules which can deliver high performance and tailored functionality, such as tensile strength, elasticity, heat tolerance, and so on. Modifications made at this stage also contribute to increased productivity levels during the microbial fermentation phase.

  • 2. Gene Synthesis

    Creating new molecules requires the ability to carry out high-throughput synthesis of any type of gene sequence. However, due to their highly repetitive structure, genes that code for spider silk proteins have been extremely difficult to synthesize with existing technology. We invested considerable resources into overcoming this problem, and developed a proprietary, in-house solution capable of synthesizing these repetitive genes in as little as three days. To date, we have designed and added more than 1,000 sequences to our synthetic gene library using this technology. The process of creating new varieties of genes continues to this day.

  • 3. Microbial Fermentation

    The next step is to select a candidate gene which has been optimized for functionality and productivity based on the data stored in our gene library. We then utilize our proprietary protein expression system to create a test batch of the desired protein. Operating at this trial scale allows us to modify fermentation and purification parameters on the fly and quickly examine the impact these changes have on protein production. Once a promising protein has been identified, we carry out large-scale fermentation for raw protein acquisition. Currently, the efficiency of our microbial fibroin production process is on par with the highest international levels achieved to date (based on publicly disclosed sources).

  • 4. Processing

    Once the fermentation process is complete, we purify the raw fibroin and process it via our proprietary technologies to create fibers, film, sponges, resins, and other types of materials. We then analyze the properties and characteristics of each material and record the results in our database in order to improve future molecular designs. Our fiber spinning process in particular deserves special mention: it was designed entirely in-house from the ground up, and now serves as a cornerstone technology as we scale up towards mass production.

  • 5. Prototyping

    Once processed, we take the resulting protein material, such as a textile or a composite, and use it to create a prototype. Creating and evaluating prototypes helps us develop the necessary equipment and technology to manufacture finished products that are guaranteed to meet our end-users’ highest expectations. Finally, we evaluate the parameters used at each stage of our production process—from genetic synthesis to prototyping—and feed the resulting data back into the next cycle of molecular design.

Development
progress to date

Gene designs:
1060
Proteins:
759

Target Markets

Spiber’s initial targets are the apparel and automotive industries, two huge markets which have the potential for immeasurable impact once our materials reach widespread adoption. Currently, we are hard at work preparing for commercialization in pursuit of that goal. We believe that protein materials also have incredible potential for use in other industries such as medicine, construction, robotics, and aerospace. Accordingly, Spiber is engaged in numerous joint research and business development endeavors with experts in those fields.

Initial Market Segments (Scale: USD; approximate)

  • Apparel

    2trillion

  • Automotive

    2.5trillion

Potential Segments

  • Medical

  • Construction

  • Sports

  • Aerospace

  • Tires

  • Furniture

  • Robotics

MOON PARKAPrototype

A ground breaking innovation

Spiber has created numerous test pieces as part of our search for the ultimate combination of material and manufacturing process, but one prototype in particular stands out from the rest.

We began by selecting a protein from our molecular database suitable for use in both outer shell material and embroidery. After fermentation, the protein was processed into fibers for spinning and weaving. We refined each step of the process until we were left with an end product that was truly remarkable. On September 26th, 2015, we announced the final result to the world: the MOON PARKA™. This prototype is an outdoor-wear piece with a design based on The North Face’s ANTARCTICA PARKA, constructed from our proprietary spider fibroin-based protein material, QMONOS™ . Notably, this marks a world first for the production of a garment made with synthetic protein materials on industrial manufacturing-line technology.

Watch Video

Lexus Kinetic Seat Concept

Lexus, the luxury brand known for their ability to consistently amaze and impress their customers, announced the Kinetic Seat Concept at the Paris Motor Show in October of 2016. This concept piece is a perfect example of the Lexus commitment to pursuing the latest in manufacturing technology.
Designed to offer superior support to the driver when turning the steering wheel, the seat is also built to reduce the fatigue associated with driving over long periods. The reverse side of the seat’s upright section utilizes Spiber’s QMONOS™ synthetic spider silk protein material, chosen for its high shock-absorbing potential.