Fermentation technology for sustainable chemicals and food ingredients

Fermentation technology for sustainable chemicals and food ingredients

Fermentation has been used for centuries to make food products more tasteful and longer-lasting. Today it is also used as a sustainable alternative for the production of specific chemicals and food ingredients which are still being made with synthetic, fossil-based processes. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has a strong track record on fermentation technology for food products and chemicals. With our unique lab-to-pilot approach we offer companies novel opportunities to find the most cost-effective route to a given fermentation process.

In the dedicated fermenter labs of Wageningen University & Research, we can scale up fermentation processes to 2, 100 and even 1000 litres. We use CRISPR/CAS and mathematical modelling to improve our fermentation processes, and work with a variety of micro-organisms which range from yeasts and fungi to anaerobic bacteria and algae.  

Our strong track record in anaerobic fermentation routes and the use of cost-effective side streams is key to increasing product yields and volumetric productivity, reducing the costs of raw materials and energy input. As such, we are able to design fermentation processes that can compete with petrochemical processes even when oil prices are modest, as well as processes that are uniquely suited to developing new, functional and healthy food ingredients.

Fermentation technologies for bulk and fine chemicals

At Wageningen University & Research, we have developed several important fermentation processes that speed up the development of competitive bulk and fine chemicals, and even end-products such as bioplastics. Combining our practical knowledge on biocatalysis and fermentation technology, we develop a range of high-value chemicals, with a focus on molecules with multiple active groups. Examples of these molecules are diols, diamines, dicarboxyacids and hydroxy fatty acids. For many of these key chemical building blocks, sustainable, biobased processes are not yet available.  

Fermentation for clean label products

There is a rapidly growing interest in fermentation for the production of 'clean label products' without the use of E-numbers. The fermentation process delivers the required substance such as a vitamin, desired flavour or preservative naturally, which can then be declared as a ‘fermented sugar’ or ‘fermented vegetable’ or ‘fruit’. This approach can be used for instance by enriching plant-based products with vitamin B12 or to make a vegetable like Brussels sprout more attractive for children.

Industrial interest

“We see a strong industrial interest in fermentation for the production of chemical building blocks and food ingredients,” says Jeroen Hugenholtz, senior fermentation expert at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “To begin with, fermentation is affordable because we reuse waste streams, for example from the sugar beet industry. In addition, it is energy efficient as the microorganisms do their work at low temperatures. And because we are understanding the microorganisms better each day, fermentation is becoming an attractive and affordable solution for more and more applications.”

An example is the work we have done for Total and Corbion on optimising the production of polylactic acid. PLA is a fully bio-based plastic with excellent functional properties. Thanks to our contribution, PLA can now be produced in an affordable way, making it possible for the PLA market to expand.