Green Technology

Denim and past: Huue’s pursuit of ‘clear coloration’ dyes

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Biotechnology firm Huue (pronounced hue) is on a mission to mimic and replicate nature’s rainbow with out using poisonous chemical compounds.

“We wished a reputation that may enable us to redefine how we take into consideration coloration whereas being quite simple,” Huue CEO Michelle Zhu informed GreenBiz. “We thought Huue would put us on the trail to being synonymous with coloration and replicate that we’re making coloration as nature meant.”

The concept for Huue, which creates non-toxic alternate options to artificial dye for textiles, began in a lab on the College of California, Berkeley campus, the place Tammy Hsu, chief scientific officer on the firm, earned her Ph.D. in bioengineering.

Huue founders — two people — pose on stairs

This was additionally the place friendship began. Zhu’s companion can be a bioengineer and labored in the identical lab at Hsu. Due to that connection, the CEO and CSO had develop into buddies earlier than launching their enterprise.

The start of Huue

When Hsu was in graduate faculty, one of many first issues she did was look into how crops made indigo and discover the enzyme essential to create the colour. Then she engineered microbes to provide the enzyme and make indigo themselves. This course of was the muse for the best way Huue operates now.

In early 2019, Hsu acknowledged the curiosity and demand for this sort of know-how from style manufacturers. That’s when Hsu, together with her scientific experience, and Zhu, together with her enterprise operations and technique background, joined forces to discovered Huue.

Zhu grew up in a household that was within the enterprise of textiles and attire. Her dad and mom began their attire model centered on city streetwear segments within the late Nineties and over time expanded into all clothes classes for all genders by means of quite a few manufacturers.

“I’d go to a number of the garment manufacturing amenities on summer time journeys to China with my household rising up and witness the air pollution first-hand, whether or not as particles within the air that staff needed to keep away from with face masks or foul-looking waterways across the factories,” she stated. “These are vignettes in my thoughts which have made a long-lasting impression concerning the chemical compounds and processing required within the style trade.”

Earlier than we dig into the main points about Huue’s know-how, right here’s a short historical past lesson: Till the mid-1800s, dyes have been derived from pure sources. Suppose crops, bugs and different assets that develop in nature. Then English chemist William Henry Perkin found one of many first artificial dyes whereas experimenting with coal tar, a thick, darkish liquid byproduct of coal-gas manufacturing, making a ripple impact that led to the $11.1 billion textile dye trade of at this time.

“You out of the blue had dyes that have been much more inexpensive, and in addition much more pure and efficient for industrial use,” Zhu mirrored concerning the introduction of artificial, petrochemical or coal-derived dyes. “However everyone knows, it additionally got here with tradeoffs of environmental, and even in lots of circumstances, human well being impacts.”

On the worldwide scale, textile dyeing is among the main actions to trigger water air pollution, in keeping with the United Nations Atmosphere Program.

From benchtop to the availability chain

Now Huue is utilizing artificial biology to return to nature with its dye manufacturing. Hsu’s analysis centered on how nature creates coloration. Huue replicates the colour manufacturing course of native to Indigofera, a genus of crops that embody species historically used for dye, by means of its proprietary microbe programming.

“That’s the generalized precept behind how we do issues at Huue. We glance to nature for that inspiration, whether or not it is indigo blue or beet crimson or flamingo pink,” Zhu stated.

For now, the corporate is targeted on indigo dye, however it will definitely seeks to department out to different hues. To do that, Huue identifies and sequences enzymes from the pure assets — such because the crops used to establish enzymes to create indigo.

When the corporate has an enzyme of curiosity, one which it desires to probably use for dye, it expresses them within the microbial pressure to see if it produces the goal molecule. It additionally makes genetic edits to the pressure to see if it improves the manufacturing of the goal molecule.

When it has a promising microbial pressure, it grows that in a bioreactor to see how a lot dye molecule it produces in an even bigger, extra well-controlled and better-fed surroundings. “It is a small-scale mannequin of what the fermentation will appear like in huge fermentation tanks at scale. That is similar to step 2, besides utilizing a bioreactor to develop the cells,” Zhu stated.

Huue can develop its microbes in vessels of any dimension — from petri dishes to processing tanks. At this level and to this point, it has partnered with manufacturing amenities to run its course of in tanks which are hundreds of liters in quantity. And it has mini duplicate tanks — 1 to 10 liters in dimension — in its Berkeley lab that it makes use of for R&D functions.

After the fermentation course of, it purifies the dye, which is then measured for yield and purity. These measurements assist decide how a lot indigo was created from the beginning materials and what % of the dyestuff, an trade time period for a substance that can be utilized as a dye when added to an answer, is indigo molecules.

A piece of cotton dyed indigo blue

Lastly, it checks the dyestuff by dipping cotton right into a dye bathtub and squeezing it dry on a cloth padder. Then extra measurements are taken to evaluate the material coloration, the colour and put on qualities of the dyed material, and the dye bathtub itself.

“In that sense, we’re creating this no-compromise answer that’s each comprised of renewable and cleaner inputs, but additionally has the type of purity, scalability and efficiency metrics that the trade actually wants to have the ability to scale and undertake this on [a mass scale],” Zhu stated.

Huue has been centered on turning its benchtop growth right into a product that’s a one-to-one, drop-in alternative right into a style firm’s provide chain — so the producers received’t should undertake new gear or processes with a purpose to combine Huue’s dyes. The corporate has additionally been getting ready the method for scale, in order that it will probably work with giant manufacturing amenities “to essentially begin to service the trade in a significant means,” in keeping with Zhu.

Again in July, the corporate secured a $14.6 million Sequence A spherical, led by Materials Affect, to launch and scale its indigo dye, which is utilized in denim. As of this summer time, the Huue workforce was about 15 individuals robust, and Zhu expects the worker roster to develop to 25 in 2023.

“I feel the final word aim is basically servicing the demand that we’re seeing coming in from our model group for our cleaner colours,” Zhu stated.

Huue’s model companions are beneath wraps however she famous that it’s “working and testing with family denim names that I feel readers will know and love.”

In its work with denim corporations, Huue desires to display the worth of its know-how as that drop-in alternative that may be simply as efficient as the standard petrochemical choices.

Huue isn’t the one firm on a coloration mission. Huue and others are in search of to disrupt the marketplace for pure textile dyes, anticipated to develop from $725 million in 2020 to $1.5 billion by 2026 in america alone. (That determine additionally consists of dyes utilized in different industries, comparable to meals and beverage and cosmetics.)

Just like Huue, England-based Colorfix makes use of a organic course of to copy pigments made in nature. Earlier this yr, it obtained an infusion of $22.6 million in a Sequence B spherical, led by Swedish style big H&M, which just lately got here beneath fireplace for its seemingly false sustainability claims.

There’s additionally Recycrom, which transforms material textile waste fibers right into a advantageous powder that can be utilized as a pigment dye for materials and clothes, in keeping with the corporate web site. It just lately partnered with supplies science and style firm Pangaia to launch an “Earth-friendly” capsule assortment utilizing the dyes.

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