'Social networks' in biochemicals reveal maturity, opportunity

By Lux Research | May 16, 2012

Just as social networks on sites like Facebook can reveal patterns about human communities, the networks of company partnerships in a field like biobased materials and chemicals can provide insight into the future of the industry. A new study from Lux Research finds that a single dominant cluster encompassing 85 percent of the organizations and 95 percent of the relationships has emerged in the biobased materials and chemicals industry, but argues that opportunities for innovation still exist.

A total of 665 organizations have formed 762 relationships, but a “social network” analysis shows that partnerships are unevenly spread: one huge cluster dominates 34 smaller satellites, and “superconnector” firms like Amyris have 15 times more links than the average organization. Also, startups aren’t the only ones becoming power centers—the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Shell and Novozymes all have 15 or more significant connections.

“The biobased materials and chemicals universe still is not a single, contiguous network,” said Kalib Kersh, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, Solving the Bio-Based Chemicals Partnership Puzzle. “Outside of one main group are 34 small networks with as few as two and as many as 11 interconnected companies.”

“Our metrics illustrate the powerful role that ‘superconnector’ organizations are building, but the network spans a diverse group of geographic locations, technical strengths, and value chain positions that may give other players a chance to compete,” he added.

Lux Research analysts applied the firm’s Social Network Analysis to uncover quantitative and qualitative insights about individual organizations and the ecosystem as a whole. Among their findings:

Biobased materials and chemicals are shifting to commercialization. The emergence of a single main cluster signals a shift from scientific to commercial activity. Downstream organizations that will use biobased materials and chemicals in their products, such as Coca-Cola, Method, Unilever, and Frito-Lay have entered the network through partnerships with developers like Segetis, forming 264 connections so far.

Mini-hubs are emerging. Key startups like Amyris (with 34 partnerships) and Solazyme (with 33 partnerships) have created their own hubs in the network, demonstrating an aptitude for attracting investors, application developers, customers, and government support. With 22 to 26 partnerships, Elevance, BioAmber, Gevo, and Evolva have emerged as similar important centers.

Partnership prospects still exist upstream. The field of feedstock developers is one of the smallest with only 34 nodes. They are the least central to the overall network, indicating an isolated community far from decision-making and deals, recent investments—such as DuPont’s funding of NexSteppe—may indicate this isolation is changing.