The global demand for oils and fatty acids – components that are used in a wide variety of materials, chemicals and food products - is growing rapidly. There is a huge societal need for a more sustainable production of these fatty acids. Palm, coconut and castor oils are currently the main fatty acid sources and these crops are linked to issues such as large-scale deforestation to clear space for plantations. In their search for alternatives, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research scientists focus on microbial, enzymatic and chemical conversion routes to convert low-cost and sustainable organic raw materials into valuable oils, fatty acids and oleochemicals.
Which organic raw materials can be sustainably and cost-efficiently converted into fatty acids? Are there promising new dedicated crops or microbes which produce these types of oils? Wageningen Food & Biobased Research studies these and other questions. In addition, we analyse residual streams and their potential for chemical or microbial conversion into fatty acids. And we study how oils from promising dedicated crops – such as crambe and camelina – can be sustainably converted into building blocks for applications such as surfactants, lubricants, coatings and cosmetics.
Micro-organisms such as algae, fungi, yeasts and bacteria excel at producing saturated and unsaturated oils from plant biomass. Using biotechnology, we can make these micro-organisms produce specific short, medium or long chain saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. At Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, we have the strain engineering and process improvement experts and facilities required to adapt the metabolic routes of these various organisms and make them produce exactly the right fatty acid. Combined with our expertise in chemo and bio-catalytic fatty acid conversion, we can determine which combination of microbial, enzymatic and chemical conversion routes is the most cost-efficient and sustainable for producing the desired fatty acid or fatty acid derivative.
Fatty acids and their derivatives are used in a variety of end-products, and Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is actively involved in developing value chains to enhance these products. We connect partners throughout the value chain, from biomass producers to oleochemical plants that produce building blocks based on fatty acids. Our goal is to create innovative, sustainable and profitable value chains and help companies to bring a variety of products – ranging from lubricants and personal care ingredients to thermoplastic polymers, coatings and waxes – to market.