Birch Biosciences

Birch Biosciences

We recycle plastic using engineered enzymes

Birch Biosciences engineers enzymes for plastic recycling using synthetic biology and machine learning. Our enzymes function as high performance “molecular scissors” that efficiently break down plastic polymers into chemical building blocks that can be used to manufacture high quality recycled plastic products. Today, plastic manufacturing is unsustainable and a major driver of climate change. Birch Biosciences is developing an economical end-to-end plastic recycling process that reduces carbon emissions by 70% and enables a circular plastic economy.

Jobs at Birch Biosciences

Portland, OR, US
$16 - $21
Any (new grads ok)
Birch Biosciences
Team Size:10
Location:Portland, OR
Group Partner:Surbhi Sarna

Active Founders

Johan Kers

Johan is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Birch Biosciences. He has spent the last 15 years programming bacteria and genetic circuits to produce novel therapeutic proteins and other natural products at leading companies including Absci and Ginkgo Bioworks. Johan is especially interested in solving major sustainability problems using biotechnology. He holds a PhD from Cornell University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Company Launches

The problem:

Today, plastic recycling doesn't work.  Less than 9% of plastic is recycled in the United States, a number unchanged over the past 15 years.  The current mechanical recycling process involves melting and reforming plastic at high temperatures, generally resulting in major greenhouse gas emissions while producing low quality plastic at high cost.  This is a major problem as consumers demand more sustainable plastic products, but brands are unable to meet this demand due to sustainability, quality, yield, and price issues with mechanically recycled plastic.  If we don’t develop a circular plastic economy, plastics will be responsible for 15% of global CO2 emissions by 2050.

The solution:

Birch Biosciences is engineering an enzyme-mediated process to recycle plastic. Our high performance enzymes work as “molecular scissors'' at low temperatures to break down plastic polymers into monomer “building blocks,” which can be re-polymerized into high quality recycled plastic products. Birch recycling technology will:

  • Reduce carbon emissions associated with plastic recycling by > 70%.
  • Generate recycled plastic of equivalent quality to new plastic.
  • Produce recycled plastic at equal or lower cost than mechanically recycled plastic.
  • Increase the variety of plastic products that can be effectively recycled

Birch’s recycling process enables a true ‘circular’ plastic economy where plastic products are continuously recycled into the same plastic products, rather than being manufactured from oil or gas.  This is especially important as consumers, brands, and our planet demand more sustainable products.

Our technology focus:

Enzymes as “molecular scissors” are the centerpiece of our recycling technology. We discover and develop high performance enzymes using iterative machine learning and quantitative high-throughput screening of novel protein designs. Our technology stack enables design of robust enzymes for industrial scale plastic recycling using a fermentation-like bioprocess.

We’re currently focused on engineering enzymes for PET plastics (i.e., beverage bottles, polyester clothing) and polyurethane plastics (i.e., foam for furniture, bedding, insulation). In addition to YC, our technology development is supported by the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

How you can help:

If you or anyone in your network might be interested in learning more or helping out, we would love to chat.  We're especially interested in talking with:

  • Companies and brands that use PET plastics
  • Experts in the plastic manufacturing and recycling industry
  • Operators of recycling facilities
  • Nonprofits with an interest in sustainability and plastic recycling

We can be reached at founders@birchbiosciences.com