Manufacturer opens $125M ‘world’s first’ factory of its kind in Union

Manufacturer opens $125M ‘world’s first’ factory of its kind in Union

September 26, 2023 | SC News Biz

Biotechnology company MycoWorks has begun production at its world-class manufacturing facility in Union.

Now capable of scaling-up to meet luxury industry demand, the company is set to grow millions of square feet of its leather-alternative material produced with the company’s proprietary technology, Fine Mycelium, a MycoWorks news release stated. This patented technology produces Reishi, a biomaterial with strength and durability that on par with calfskin leather, the industry gold standard.

With partners including Hermès and General Motors, MycoWorks’ progression into commercial-scale manufacturing is a sign of maturation for the biomaterials industry that the company continues its leadership in materials science, the release stated. Per MycoWorks’ market sizing, there are serious challenges facing the $164 billion leather market and $28 billion luxury leather market such as supply chain constraints and inferior product alternatives, the release stated.

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“As MycoWorks continues to lead in biomaterial innovation, we are thrilled to open this first-of-its-kind facility in South Carolina,” Doug Hardesty, MycoWorks chief operating officer, said in the release. “This reality is thanks to our team of experienced manufacturing leaders and engineers from the consumer goods, automotive, food, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries who have adapted robotic equipment and systems to handle our unique tray-based biomaterials process.

“In turn, they have enabled the first high-quality mycelium material product at scale, a feat which has never been accomplished until now. We thank the city and citizens of Union for welcoming MycoWorks into its community.”

Since 2010, demand for luxury leather increased 251%, while high-end hide production declined by 22% due to falling beef and dairy consumption, the release stated. MycoWorks is answering these challenges with the world’s first full-scale alternative leather factory, a revolution in the production of high-quality natural materials for the luxury industry.

The opening of the 136,000-square-foot factory also marks the world’s largest mycelium material operation, a major step for the use of mycelium — the “root structure” of mushrooms, the release stated. Starting first with leather, MycoWorks’ Fine Mycelium technology can later be expanded into other applications.

The plant was made possible through a $125 million Series C funding round in 2021 from Prime Movers Lab, SK Networks, Mirabaud Lifestyle Impact & Innovation Fund, DCVC Bio, Novo Holdings and several strategic customers and investors, the release stated. “With construction beginning in 2022, the project was delivered on-time and on-budget, running the same tray-based mycelium growth system successfully piloted in its California plant yet scaled to 100 times the volume.

MycoWorks’ facility uses state of the art robotics, digital analytics, and AI resources to achieve high-caliber quality and supply chain systems for the company’s customers in an entirely new manufacturing process, the release stated. Using automated guided robots (AGRs), the company has automated 80% of its process, enabling MycoWorks to reduce handling costs but maintain expert interactions where they are critical for quality assurance, achieving both high quality and low-cost production.

For the leather industry, MycoWorks’ Union facility is a breakthrough in supply chain management, providing full predictability, transparency, and provenance of high-quality natural materials while also reducing waste, the release stated. Grown-to-spec, Fine Mycelium can be customized for thickness, weight and mechanical properties, allowing for an unprecedented level of control of a natural material, previously impossible via traditional agriculture.

For Union, MycoWorks’ investment is reshoring production from an industry that primarily sources from Europe, the release stated. Union has had a long history in textile manufacturing, and as the region is already home to leading automotive manufacturers, Fine Mycelium will allow other industries in the area and globally to closely collaborate on development.

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