Investing in Nanozyme Technology for Lignin Bioprocessing and Beyond
We’re excited to announce our investment in Level Nine, a groundbreaking German company, marking our first investment in continental Europe. Level Nine is redefining the scope of bioprocessing with its breakthrough nanozyme technology, enabling low emissions alternatives to petrochemicals.
Nanozymes: The Game Changer in Biochemicals
Level Nine is pioneering the development of nanozymes, a nascent yet promising field. Nanozymes are advanced nanomaterials designed to mimic the functions of enzymes with improved stability, efficacy and cost efficiency. By offering the specificity of enzymes but without the limitations on stability and cost, nanozymes are ideal for industrial processes.
They offer a transformative solution for processing biomass feedstocks into valuable chemicals. Level Nine is addressing the critical need for more cost-effective and efficient methods in bioprocessing, especially in dealing with complex biological feedstocks which are challenging to process. This could be a key pathway to replacing petrochemicals, responsible for substantial greenhouse gas emissions, with low emissions and economically viable biochemicals.
The fossil fuel feedstock used to make petrochemicals is responsible for at least 0.4 GtCO2e/year of emissions due to fugitive emissions of methane released in the extraction process. In addition to this, the production of petrochemicals results in 1.1 GtCO2e/year process emissions (where the chemical reaction releases CO2 or other greenhouse gases) and 1.8 GtCO2e/year of emissions from the high temperatures often required which are difficult to electrify.
(Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on petrochemicals: The production of chemicals and materials from fossil fuels has high energy requirements for reactions and separations and results in fugitive GHG emissions from extraction and processing of the petroleum.)
Level Nine's Initial Focus: Lignin Processing to BTX Aromatics
Level Nine's initial focus lies in lignin bioprocessing to produce BTX aromatics.
BTX aromatics are a class of chemicals currently produced from naphtha (from crude oil). The term BTX aromatics refers to the hydrocarbons benzene (B), toluene (T) and xylene (X) - hydrocarbons that feature an aromatic benzene ring. BTX aromatics are among the top five high volume chemicals produced globally. They are key precursors to a variety of petrochemicals and materials, and used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, synthetic fibres, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, pesticides, domestic chemicals such as glues, adhesives, and cleaning products.
Above: Chemical structure of BTX aromatics showing the benzene ring
Lignin is a complex, abundant and underutilised biopolymer. It naturally contains the benzene-ring structure found in BTX aromatics, which is a chemically challenging structure to manufacture. Lignin may be the only viable source of BTX chemicals other than naphtha, but so far lignin bioprocessing has not been economically viable. Level Nine’s nanozymes will be able to process the complex lignin material with the specificity and efficiency of enzymes but at the cost and stability of a metal catalyst, making bio-BTX cost competitive.
Level Nine's Founders
The founding team of Level Nine includes Dr Emily Sheridan, who holds a PhD in Bio-Nanoscience from one of the world’s leading nanoscience research centres, and Seadna Quigley, formerly on the executive team of a circular economy consultancy. They are Entrepreneur First graduates, where they combined Emily's scientific background with Seadna's business acumen to create a powerful team on a mission to redefine possibilities in biochemicals production.
From left to right: Seadna Quigley (CEO) and Dr Emily Sheridan (CTO)
Zero Carbon Capital's Investment in Level Nine
ZCC led a pre-seed investment into Level Nine alongside Entrepreneur First, Rockstart and a group of angel investors. ZCC's Sarah has joined the board as Investor Director and is thrilled to support Level Nine on their journey to revolutionise the chemicals industry.
This is our passion—to support newly formed startups led by scientific entrepreneurs who have the ambition to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and we’re excited to be able to support Level Nine as part of that.