New Zealand company Humble Bee Bio has decided to create a biodegradable alternative to plastic using bee biology. Although the company has only just begun to develop a concept, its success could change the sustainable materials industry.

Humble Bee studies the Australian bee, a species that does not produce honey but creates material to build nests for larvae. This material has many plastic properties.

“It’s resistant to acids and bases. It’s hydrophobic, it’s waterproof, it’s flame retardant, it’s stable up to 240 degrees Celsius. The idea is, how do we recreate this?” says the company’s chief technical officer.

The team uses a synthetic biology approach that requires studying the bee’s genetic code and identifying the genes and proteins responsible for the material. Humble Bee has already received the code and is trying to reproduce it in the laboratory. Next, the company will try to synthesize plastic-like materials. They will focus on four types of biomaterials that can be converted into fibers and later into fabric.

In New Zealand, they are learning to produce bioplastics with the help of bees

By May-June 2023, the company must confirm its concept. Then the team hopes to increase production to fermentation on an industrial scale. After that, you can think about a commercial strategy, but the company already has the first potential customers.

In particular, Humble Bee has already been approached by textile companies and others in need of upholstery fabrics. Fashion brands are also appealing, as environmental sustainability of materials is becoming a priority for them.