Micro-organisms convert organic waste into high-grade fatty acids

Published on
February 18, 2021

From peanut butter and chocolate to shampoo and detergent: many products contain fatty acids and oils. Usually these are produced from non-sustainable sources such as fossil fuels or palm oil. In a new public-private project, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is working on promising, sustainable alternatives by putting micro-organisms to work. Goal: to develop fatty acids and oils for various industrial applications.

Tailor-made microbial oils and (hydroxy) fatty acids is the name of the TKI project, in which Wageningen researchers are collaborating with three companies: Diversey (cleaning and hygiene products), Seppic (cosmetics and coatings) and Duynie (waste stream processing and ingredients for feed). These companies are looking for alternatives to common fatty acids from fossil sources or palm oil.

Efficient and sustainable

Alternatives must have exactly the right characteristics. That is what micro-organisms have to ensure. A selected yeast species converts organic waste very efficiently into an oil that resembles palm oil or sunflower oil. With biological technologies, researchers can make specific changes to the composition of these fatty acids. According to Jeroen Hugenholtz, groupleader Fermentation at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, it should be possible to develop fatty acids for a wide range of applications. "And that's what the industry needs: versatile fatty acids that have been produced sustainably.”

Platform for microbial fatty acids

In the project, the researchers first of all want to show that large-scale production of microbial fatty acids is possible and economically viable. In addition, the aim is to provide the participating companies with realistic alternatives to fatty acids from fossil sources and palm oil. Ultimately, Wageningen Food & Biobased wants to move towards a universal platform for customised microbial fatty acids.