"The production and use of traditional synthetic materials are very toxic and unsustainable." These are the words of the biotechnology engineer and founder of Polybion, Axel Gómez-Ortigoza. In light of this problem, the young man offers an alternative that assists in the development of new materials of biological origin capable of replacing synthetic ones for their current use.
With his company, Gomez-Ortigoza has already developed three of these new materials: Fungicel, a substitute for foams of insulating and packaging elements; Lignum, a material able to replace synthetic wood panels; Celium, a biological alternative for synthetic leather. Because of the potential of these inventions to make the world a more sustainable place, the young man has been chosen among the winners of Innovators under 35 Latin America 2018 by MIT Technology Review.
The key to the innovation of Gómez-Ortigoza lies in using microorganisms, both natural and genetically modified, to obtain new substances through a process that fixes carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Bacteria, yeasts, and fungi feed on waste and produce high-value materials.
"The most advanced product is Fungicel, a product that replaces insulating foams and is marketed in the form of acoustic panels," the Mexican inventor explains. Currently, his company produces 2,000 of these pieces every month, but the intention is to scale production once the series A fundraising round is completed.
"One of the advantages of Fungicel is that it is flame-retardant. Synthetic foams are highly flammable and, to avoid this, a series of chemical substances that make these materials even more toxic are usually added," Gomez-Ortigoza states. However, the biological composition of its product ensures that combustion does not spread through the material without having to incorporate these additives.
Regarding Celium, another of of his products, the innovator emphasizes the ecological nature of its production. It not only avoids the killing of animals to obtain their skin, but also its manufacture is carbon-neutral, something that neither leather nor its alternatives derived from oil can achieve.
According to the professor at the National University of Quilmes (Argentina) María Jose Morilla, jury member of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018, the project of Gomez-Ortigoza is "highly innovative and it will have a great impact on Mexican industries, increasing the value of its products."