Holiferm 2021: The Year In Review

As one year ends and another begins it’s a time to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come. 2021 was an incredible year for Holiferm, we had many successes and achievements, as well as our fair share of set-backs, but lets focus on the former.

We began the year in the middle of our pilot plant build at Daresbury. This took a major step forward when the reactor was finally delivered. Once it was installed there was a new buzz and impetus around the site, finally we were getting closer to completion. Each new pipe installed brought us a step closer to supplying our sophorolipids to our customers. The build of the plant took us through January and into February.

Also in January, our products were tested and came back certified both as Vegan and COSOMOS accredited. This was a major break-through for us, as it showed our products were environmentally friendly and suitable to be used by everyone. Ever since we have proudly displayed both marks alongside our products.

As March hailed the start of spring, we had a spring in our step as the pilot plant was finally completed. Everything still needed to be double checked and tested, but we were finally so close to going into production. The team at Daresbury could barely contain their excitement.

In the test lab in Manchester we welcomed the arrival of 5 new microorganism strains. This kick-started the development of new biosurfactants to add to our portfolio. We were joined in this venture by BASF, who agreed to partner with us to explore the opportunities around these new biosurfactants and the technology used to produce them.

April was a month of firsts for Holiferm. It began with our pilot plant bioreactor being run for the 1st time. This was quickly followed by our 1st international sale and the 1st 200kg drum of our product being filled and shipped. It was so satisfying seeing the drum fill up with our golden nectar and then waving it on its way to our customer.

We also were fortunate enough to receive a grant, alongside our friends at PeelPioneers, from the EU Eurostars funding programme. It is a programme that supports research-performing small and medium enterprises, which develop innovative products, processes and services.

In June our CEO, Ben Dolman, was invited to give a webinar talk about biotech entitled Cells, capital and chemical engineers – why industrial biotech needs more chemical engineers. Through this talk he was able to explain more about Holiferm and why companies like ours are important for the future of the biotech and chemical engineering industries.

In the test lab in Manchester we received and set up key analytical equipment like the HPLC. This equipment allowed us, for the first time, to fingerprint and quantify sugars, biosurfactants and fatty acids in the compounds we were testing.

As we started the second half of the year in July we were delighted to announce a new partnership with Azelis. They agreed to distribute our products across the UK and Ireland. Partnering with a multi-national organisation for the first time was an important step for Holiferm, as it demonstrated our product and other biosurfactants were going to play a key role in the future.

We also were lucky enough to receive a grant from the Liverpool City Future Innovation Fund. The £3m Future Innovation Fund Pilot programme was established by the Metro Mayor to support Liverpool City Region’s (LCR) small and medium sized enterprise (SME) community.

By the time we had reached August the Holiferm family had grown to more than double the size at the beginning of the year. We had added a fermentation scientist, an analytical scientist, a down-stream process engineer, a fermentation engineer, 2 lab technicians, scale-up and manufacturing engineers, a QC scientist and a technical sales manager. We weren’t finished there either, the family continued to grow later in the year.

In September we finally ventured out into the real world again and attended CHEMUK21. We hosted our own stand. Our sample products and gummy bears were very popular with the attendees. We made a lot of new contacts and spread the message about Holiferm and how our biosurfactants have the potential to change the future of chemical manufacturing. We have already confirmed our place at CHEMUK22.

Off the back of attending the conference we were invited to join the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Enterprise Plus scheme. It is the RSC’s dedicated scheme for SMEs representing nearly 400 companies. They provide opportunities for companies to help them promote themselves, recruit the right people and find the connections and information they need to grow.

In the test lab in Manchester one of the five biosurfactants, which we had been working on since March, was produced and isolated within our technoeconomic targets. This was a major break-through for Holiferm and further proof that our technology and business model were viable at mass market scale.

September, also saw a landmark in our most recent investment round as Rhapsody Venture Partners invested a significant amount in Holiferm. This brought us tantalisingly close to realising our goal of building the biggest commercial sophorolipid plant in the EU. We welcomed Jason Whaley, from Rhapsody VP, to the Holiferm board of directors.

In October Vicky De Groof, our CTO, and Lawrence Clarke, our Technical Sales Manager, attended the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology & the Bioeconomy (EFIB) in Vienna. They hosted a stand and were able to set up meetings and make connections with a variety of stakeholders within the biotech industry. Our Managing Director, Richard Lock, also presented at the Future of Surfactants Summit, helping to disseminate our message further.

Back at the pilot plant in Darebury our 1st IBC was filled. This was a landmark moment for us and proved the pilot plant could produce at scale, meaning we could cater for an increased customer demand for our products.

XCellR8, our neighbours at Daresbury, used their new in vitro method to test HoliSurf against a range of other similar products. They found HoliSurf to be ultra-mild when applied to skin. We were delighted by this finding, as it confirmed what we already knew – biosurfactants are not only environmentally and economically friendly, they are also skin friendly too!

Our biosurfactants; HoneySurf and HoliSurf, were listed on both Chembid and the Where to Buy Directory. Joining these websites allowed our products to reach a wider range of business types and customer bases. We also became a member of the Cosmetics Cluster UK. This was an important steps for us as HoliSurf has many applications within cosmetics products.

As the nights got longer in November we worked harder to push Holiferm forward and spread our message as widely as possible. Richard Lock, our MD, spoke at the CIPI Brand Connect conference on the side of COP26. He also attended some meetings around COP26 to push our green credentials and demonstrate to others what we are capable of. Richard also joined the BACS Surfactant Formulation Group to discuss with representatives of other companies how to drive the use of surfactants forward and how to encourage companies to change to greener biosurfactants. Ever full of energy Richard also travel to Milan with Lawrence Clarke to attend and present at the Making Cosmetics Show. Lawrence’s presentation at the show was very well received and led to lots of enquiries about HoliSurf and its use in cosmetics.

In the test lab in Manchester a second biosurfactant was produced and isolated within technoeconomic targets. Each of these biosurfactants that is produced and becomes viable adds another product to our portfolio and further proves the patented gravity separation step fermentation technology we use is the way forward.

We closed out our round of investment by welcoming the Clean Growth Fund as new investors and partners. They invest in companies focussed on driving clean growth in the low carbon economy. With our patented method producing three tonnes less CO2 per tonne of sophorolipid produced than the status quo, we were a natural fit. With the investment round closed we set about securing the site for our commercial plant and developing the build plans.

Our wonderful partners at Mix Clean Green launched their latest product to include HoneySurf, a bubble bath for children called Mix-osaurus. We are very proud of our partnership with Mix and the work their founder Kate does to create sustainable and environmentally friendly products. This latest product was created as a response to a customer whose son had not had a bubble bath because his eczema reacted to other bubble bath products. By using HoneySurf Kate was able to produce something that was mild enough not to cause him any irritation.

We ended the month by agreeing a distribution deal with Bisterfeld. They agreed to be our exclusive distributors in the DACH region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They have started by distributing HoneySurf for the cleaning market and will later launch HoliSurf for the personal care markets. This agreement is another sign that large scale businesses are seeing the benefits of biosurfactants and want to be part of the solution for making chemical manufacturing more sustainable.

By the time December came the Holiferm family had expanded again with an executive assistant and financial director joining the team and an operations director and supply chain manager having agreed to join. The growth of the Holiferm family shows no signs of stopping, we hope to welcome many more members in the coming year.

Our lovely partners at An’du released their first product; a shampoo bar containing HoneySurf. This mother and daughter duo are real kitchen chemists and have been inspired by a drive to eliminate plastic packaging and make products more sustainable. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Having reached the ripe old age of 9 months it was time for the pilot plant to be updated. This was largely driven by customer demand and the need to be able to produce greater amounts of products. The update also allowed us to improve productivity and safety throughout the pilot plant.

At the test lab in Manchester everyone held their breath and crossed their fingers as all six bioreactors were switched on and running at once for the very first time. Luckily everything went smoothly and a significant amount of data was produced for our downstream processing and analysis team to use.

The month ended with the signing of the lease for the site of our commercial plant in Wallasey. We very much look forward to getting our hands on the keys in early January 2022 and getting the build under way.

So, there you have it, a very busy, exciting and productive year for Holiferm. 2022 promises to be full of many more adventures as the plant is built and comes online.

We wish all of our partners, collaborators, colleagues, distributors and friends a happy and healthy festive season and a wonderful new year. We are really looking forward to working with you all to see just how much we can do in 2022!

For more information about Holiferm, HoneySurf and HoliSurf please visit www.holiferm.com or contact info@holiferm.com