RICHMOND, Ind. — It’s not every day that a United States senator comes to town.

That was the case Monday, March 4, when U.S. Sen. Todd Young visited Richmond as a stop on his “Made in Indiana” tour, where he is traveling across the state to “meet with Hoosiers who are contributing to the state’s economic and national security.”

What brought Young to Richmond was Liberation Labs, a first of its kind precision fermentation facility that will look to manufacture alternative protein products to be put into the foods that we eat.

“It was important for me to highlight this particular facility because it’s the only one of its kind in the world,” Young said in a phone interview. “It’s a purpose-built factory that will allow it to buy bio manufacture many different types of products.”

U.S. Sen. Todd Young shakes hands with a construction worker at the Liberation Labs construction site in Richmond as part of his "Made in Indiana" tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young shakes hands with a construction worker at the Liberation Labs construction site in Richmond as part of his “Made in Indiana” tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

Young said that while there are about six similar facilities in the world, those are repurposed pharmaceutical facilities, while Liberation Labs plans to serve as a multi-purpose facility that can respond to individual customer needs.

What is precision fermentation?

U.S. Sen. Todd Young tours the Liberation Labs construction site in Richmond as part of his "Made in Indiana" tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.U.S. Sen. Todd Young tours the Liberation Labs construction site in Richmond as part of his "Made in Indiana" tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young tours the Liberation Labs construction site in Richmond as part of his “Made in Indiana” tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

According to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on “making the global food system better for the planet, people and animals,” precision fermentation uses microbial hosts as “cell factories” in order to produce functional ingredients, which improve “sensory characteristics and functional attributes of plant-based products or cultivated meat.”

Enzymes, flavoring agents, vitamins, natural pigments and fats can all be produced by precision fermentation according to the GFI.

As a form of synthetic biology, the technology has been around for decades starting with the production of human insulin and followed by other pharmaceuticals like human growth hormone and the hepatitis B vaccine, but only in recent years has the technology been utilized for food.

“Indiana is demonstrating that we know how to produce things like components for microchips, advanced materials, pharmaceuticals and protein technology,” Young said. “The manufacture of proteins and materials that probably could not have been made a generation ago, but because of the advances in biology we’ve come up with a way to grow things through the harnessing of biological science in large tanks.”

What will Liberation Labs include?

While Young walked the grounds of Liberation Labs, the facility itself was still under construction, after breaking ground in July 2023, and is not yet operational, though he added that if it stays on schedule, the facility could start running by the end of 2024.

The facility plans to integrate the following processes in its facility:

  • Aseptic and aerobic agitated fermenters that will ferment with sugar and media

  • Continuous sterilization of media and carbon sources

  • Downstream recovery process incorporating centrifugation (cell mass removal) and a ceramic microfiltration

  • Purification by ultrafiltration (retaining proteins while removing salts) and diafiltration (dilution)

  • Evaporation and spray drying

On Young’s visit, he met with Mark Warner, co-founder and CEO of the company, and Etan Bendheim, co-founder and chief operating officer, where he was shown the tanks that Liberation Labs will be installing later this year.

“Through their manufacturing process, they will have the capability to manufacture baby formula, spider silk technologies that are used by the military and in some of our clothing and all sorts of things,” Young said. “But initially, they will be manufacturing some food products because the United States is really the only large country in the world that has a domestic market for alternative protein food products.”

In a YouTube video released by the company last year, Liberation Labs says that the Richmond facility will be the first of six global locations that will have the capability of expanding by four million liters of fermentation capacity each.

On its website, Liberation Labs estimates that the demand for fermentation capacity will be 90 million liters by 2025 and 600 million liters by 2035.

Young said he hopes that with Richmond being the first location, that Indiana and neighboring states will expand the technology across Indiana and neighboring states to make the Midwest the “biomanufacturing workshop of the world.”

What are the benefits of precision fermentation coming to Richmond?

U.S. Sen. Todd Young meets with Liberation Labs workers in Richmond as part of his "Made in Indiana" tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.U.S. Sen. Todd Young meets with Liberation Labs workers in Richmond as part of his "Made in Indiana" tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young meets with Liberation Labs workers in Richmond as part of his “Made in Indiana” tour, Monday, March 4, 2024.

Highlighting the benefits that will come locally as a result of Liberation Labs, Young said that local farmers can have their corn purchased by the company which will then be used as feedstock to create the alternative proteins, spider silk and other products, as well as the increased expenditure of electricity in order to operate.

Additionally, the building of the facility would bring approximately 45 jobs to the area while also developing a training program with Ivy Tech in Richmond for prospective employees/

“Our workers in the near term and into the future will increasingly staff these biomanufacturing facilities, and IV tech is already well into their efforts of training this next generation of biomanufacturing workforce,” Young said. “They’re training folks in the Richmond area to be technicians for some of the equipment they use and other manufacturing-type workforce positions that create opportunities for the next generation.”

Federally, the company would be able to write off some of its expenses on “research and development,” with the passage of a new tax bill, a bill that Young said he is working to advance in Congress.

“One thing that they depend on is certain tax provisions,” Young said. “…Having the ability to immediately write off what you spend on new equipment is very important for a facility like this. They are protecting the expenditure of hundreds and millions of dollars in new equipment.”

Young, who’s also on the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology, added that the tax package before the U.S. Congress contains “research and development” and “capital expensing” provisions, both of which would allow Liberation Labs to make tax write-offs.

Young meets with Richmond Mayor Ron Oler

After touring Liberation Labs, Young met with Richmond Mayor Ron Oler for the first time in a couple months in what he said was a “very constructive and productive visit.”

“Mayor Oler has an ambitious agenda that he’s tackled head on,” he said. “He’s tracking very closely the $25 million investment by Lilly Endowment in Richmond so that they can more seamlessly integrate with Earlham College. He’s preparing for a successful Eclipse night, working with all kinds of business leaders and he made sure to communicate with me about I-70 in Richmond as it relates to the interstate build out.”

But Young was most intrigued by the Chips and Science Act he championed in Congress and how it was directly benefiting the area.

“He told me that there are some companies in the Richmond area are locating or looking to locate in the Richmond area that will be supporting Intel’s major investments in Ohio. They’re standing up a fabrication facility for computer chips, and whenever that occurs, they’ll be a whole network of different support businesses that provide services and goods to those factories and some of those will be located in Richmond.”

Evan Weaver is a news and sports reporter at The Palladium-Item. Contact him on X (@evan_weaver7) or email at eweaver@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Richmond Palladium-Item: U.S. Senator Todd Young visits Liberation Labs in Richmond



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