Making Polyurethane and Nylon Infinitely Recyclable with Basecamp Research

An expanded strategic collaboration will develop novel enzymes that break down difficult-to-recycle plastic waste and solve a major bottleneck in the fashion industry

Today we announced an expanded collaboration around enzyme development with Basecamp Research, the world leader in mapping biodiversity data for AI biodesign, to help eliminate global polyurethane and polyamide (nylon) waste. 

By leveraging Basecamp Research’s biodiversity mapping system, our team will unlock previously inaccessible enzymes to break down polyurethane and polyamide waste. Polyurethane, commonly found in products like spandex, mattresses, sofas, car seats, and insulation panels, poses a substantial recycling challenge. Similarly, polyamide is used in athleisure, fishing nets, and various other technical products. Together, these materials account for a notable 10 percent of global plastic production. Their complex composition makes them notoriously difficult to recycle, leading to their accumulation in landfills and incinerators.

“Up until now, the biological recycling of polyamide and polyurethane waste has only been explored in the lab. We look forward to partnering with industry to provide a viable solution for petrochemical companies, manufacturers and brands as we work to meet global decarbonization goals and lessen the burden of fashion waste on our planet,” said Connor Lynn, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Protein Evolution, Inc. 

The strategic collaboration between Protein Evolution and Basecamp Research will focus on designing novel enzymes that can break down the long chemical chains of polyurethane and nylon into their constituent precursor molecules. In addition to being fully circular, textile and plastic products made from these recycled ingredients will have a significantly lower carbon footprint as no further fossil fuels are added, while maintaining the quality and strength of virgin plastic. 

Basecamp Research has a unique advantage when designing enzymes to degrade man-made materials, as their global research team and biodiversity partners are constantly and intentionally sampling in environments that are understudied and industrially relevant, including contaminated soils and waters. With over six billion relationships between genes, genomes, environments, and other biologically relevant data in Basecamp Research’s map of biodiversity, their AI platform draws on comprehensive real-world data to predict the physical and functional properties of their designed proteins.

“We’re thrilled to be a foundational technology partner for Protein Evolution’s ambitious vision for a decarbonized plastics industry, which has already captured the attention of numerous leading brands,” said Dr. Glen Gowers, Co-Founder of Basecamp Research. “Our teams share the same belief that nature is our best inspiration for solving our planet’s most pressing challenges.”

By combining Basecamp Research’s platform with Protein Evolution’s scale-up expertise, this collaboration will accelerate the development timelines of novel enzymes for biological recycling from years to months.