New faculty member founds an eco-friendly biotechnology start-up to supply the cosmetic industry

Thursday, January 26, 2023
Professor Christian Euler

In January 2023, Professor Christian Euler joined the Department of Chemical Engineering. Euler brings experience as a founder of a successful biotechnology company, in addition to his research strengths in developing microbial platforms for chemical production.

Euler and business partner Vik Pandit have founded a start-up company that produces the world’s first bio-based glycolic acid, and their processes use a waste stream for production. Glycolic acid is a commodity chemical commonly used directly as an ingredient and in the production of other chemicals.

In 2018, Euler and Pandit partnered to establish Phycus Biotechnologies, a company that uses biome-friendly ingredients to create glycolic acid for the cosmetic and beauty industry. After receiving funding from the Low Carbon Innovation Fund in 2020 the pair established a demonstration biomanufacturing facility located in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The facility was created in partnership with the Verschuren Centre, a research institute.

Glycolic acid can be used as a facial toner, in a chemical peel or as a base ingredient for cosmetic products such as eye cream. Glycolic acid is usually sourced from petroleum. The conventional process to manufacture glycolic acid begins with the use of formaldehyde as a starting material. These contaminants are harmful to our skin as well as to the environment. Currently, there is significant consumer pressure on the cosmetic industry to create green products that are contaminant free.

Euler and his team have developed a fermentation process that uses naturally derived plant-based feedstock to create glycolic acid. Their product sold under the trademarked name Purolic Acid is 100% biobased. Biobased glycolic acid starts off as CO2 from the environment which can reduce its manufacturing carbon footprint by an estimated 35% today, and much more in the future as direct CO2 utilization technologies are developed.

Euler plans to continue his research here at the University of Waterloo. He plans to develop a transformational process whereby CO2 captured from the atmosphere would be fed to microorganisms such as e coli and they in turn would excrete glycolic acid. This process could also be utilized to create plastics and medications.

Euler is an emerging leader in the movement toward circularity in manufacturing by harnessing the power of microbial metabolism. Euler’s company and research aid in advancing UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 12 Responsible Consumption and Production.

“In metabolic engineering, the world is your oyster because you can leverage all the biochemistry we know about. Plants, microbes, and all organisms make interesting chemicals that we can use,” says Euler.

Other researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering, such as Professor Boxin Zhao, Waterloo Endowed Chair in Nanotechnology, and Professor Emeritus William Anderson are working towards creating similar novel transformational processes using microorganisms. They are working on an initiative that searches for suitable microorganisms, like bacteria, that could ingest microplastic waste and excrete an eco-friendly polymer which could be used in the creation of new plastic products.

Euler is excited to join the Chemical Engineering faculty and to create collaborative links within the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.