Updated: Oct 27, 2020
What Is A Bioproduct?
Bio-based products -- or bioproducts -- are materials, ingredients and chemicals that are wholly or partly derived from materials of biological origin, excluding materials embedded in geological formations and/or fossilised.
Despite being occasionally made from similar sources, these products should not directly compete with the food chain and be developed from low-value sources such as waste, industrial by-products and the lignocellulosic component of any biomass (for instance dry plant matter, extremely abundant on Earth).
The development of bioproducts is nothing new. Wine and beer production, which relies on yeast and bacteria to ferment sugars, dates back at least to Ancient Egyptian times. Other "conventional" bioproducts still in widespread use today are insulin, bread, gunpowder and Marmite. Marmite, for instance, is a by-product of the brewing industry and has been on sale since the early 20th century. Developed by the Dutch-British company Unilever as a means of recycling and valorising the yeast produced in brewing, Marmite is an excellent source of vitamins known for its distinctive love-it-or-hate-it taste.
Here at Activatec, we work in the field of "emerging" bioproducts, researching innovative processes for the production of chemicals, biopolymers, prebiotics, bioplastics and other bio-based materials.
The Benefits Of Using Bioproducts
The development of bioproducts reduces humanity's reliance on crude oil and other fossil fuels, the extraction of which is widely considered as unsustainable and damaging to the environment.
The ecological benefits don't stop there. For example, the production of bioplastics is more likely to be environmentally benign and carbon neutral than that of their petroleum-based counterparts. Another example is ectoine which is a bioproduct used in sun cream, and acts as an effective alternative to oxybenzone, which causes the bleaching of coral reefs.
An economy centred around bioproducts can therefore help decelerate global warming, while reducing the production of landfill items.
The British government is committed to growing the bioeconomy, and has set ambitious and demanding targets for 2030 and 2050 while acknowledging the commercial potential for bio-based products. Local councils are also taking the initiative to move towards a more sustainable economy, with Nottingham aiming to become the UK's first carbon neutral city by 2028.
How Are Bioproducts Made?
As with any field, there are a range of different bioproducts, each with their own specific ways of being produced. Some are fermented in a process not too dissimilar to the production of beer. Just as yeast converts sugar into ethanol, so too can a select microbe convert a feedstock into a new and commercially viable product. That is called Industrial Biotechnology.
As well as involving the creation of bio-based products, the Industrial Biotechnology sector also includes the application of biotechnologies for the industrial processing and production of chemicals, materials and fuels. Industrial Biotechnology includes the practice of using microorganisms or components of micro-organisms like enzymes to generate industrially useful products, substances and chemical building blocks with specific capabilities that conventional petrochemical processes cannot provide.
While manufacturing processes vary, the materials created via industrial biotech are usually refined to create a final product. Bioproducts undergo a process of scaling-up, ensuring a product that is economically viable when compared with the production of analogous materials that are reliant on fossil fuels or which have unsustainable carbon footprints.
Whatever process is used to make a certain bioproduct, the key ingredients are always renewable. The bioplastic Polylactic Acid (PLA), for instance, can be made from the bacterial fermentation of glucose derived from cellulosic fraction and other carbon-based sources.
Here at Activatec, we develop technologies to product ingredients from by-products derived from different industries and streams such as whey and wastewater. We aim to avoid competing with the food chain whilst producing high-value materials from a low-value feedstock.
How Are Activatec Using Bioproducts?
Through the implementation of novel processes, Activatec are helping pioneer the move from artificial and synthetic ingredients to bioproducts in the manufacturing of high-value chemicals, bio-materials and ingredients for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.
As part of the international INGREEN project, Activatec are using industrial biotechnology to produce lactobionic acid (LBA), a product used in a variety of cosmetic and pharmaceutical settings, from whey. As part of a European-funded initiative to produce useful products from waste streams, we are working within the DEEP PURPLE project to develop a sustainable method for the production of Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a group of biodegradable plastics, from wastewater.
Activatec are also optimising the production and purification of Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) from whey. GOS, currently used mainly in baby formula, is a prebiotic material that aids the development of beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping maintain a healthy digestive system. It is estimated that more than 180 million tonnes of whey are produced every year by the cheese industry, with much of it going to low-value uses such as animal feed or being discarded altogether. Using whey as a feedstock, Activatec are reducing the waste produced by the dairy industry while increasing access to valuable food supplements.
Furthermore, we are exploring the commercialisation of isolating and purifying Ectoine, a high-value compound naturally synthesised by extremophile bacteria when exposed to high-salt environments. This compound has been shown to have many cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications, from anti-ageing and UV protection to protein stabilisation and the prevention of damage from osmotic shock. Methanotrophic bacteria can use methane to synthesise Ectoine, producing a high-value product while simultaneously consuming a potent and damaging greenhouse gas.
By developing multiple high-value products from bio-based sources, Activatec are contributing to the growth of the bioeconomy while reducing the production of waste materials. Contact us to find out more about our bioproducts and processes, and learn how we can aid you in the development of your bio-based ingredients.