Industry Needs will Drive the Growth of Renewable Chemicals in Asia: Crécy
- Eudes de Crécy, Chief Executive Officer, BioTork

BioTork’s core contribution is in advancing the fermentation industry. The company develops better performing industrial microorganisms which are then scaled up and deployed in partnership with industries, either to optimise industrial pathways or promote new pathways for new products. In many cases, it has its own portfolio of projects and, in some cases, it also provides access to its technology for collaborative partners. Recently, the State of Hawaii advanced BioTork’s agricultural and energy initiative by funding a zero-waste project that converts crops, crop residues, dedicated energy crops, and agricultural waste into economically and environmentally sustainable biofuels and value-added co-products. CEW sought views of BioTork’s CEO Eudes de Crécy on company’s core functionalities, its plans and the market for renewable chemicals.

The renewable chemicals market has been predicted to grow at CAGR of 7.7 per cent and reach USD 84.3 billion by 2018 driven by ethanol and biopolymers. According to Crécy, the growth will be even higher in in Asia, especially in China, Japan and India, because of the industry needs in these regions, especially with regard to food packaging, biodegradable and compostable plastics. He believes that market growth is driven by consumer demand, the market viability and the industrial production conditions with regard to a product or a service.

While responding to CEW, Crécy says, “Today, Europe is the largest market for renewable chemicals, followed by the United States. Growth rates will remain important in these two continents because of a persisting consumer demand for green products. However, we forecast an even higher growth rate of renewable chemicals in Asia…”

Challenges
“But there are challenges,” he agrees, “and BioTork believes that the biochemical industry suffers from what we call the ‘robustness problem’, or the failure of the microorganisms involved in the bioconversion processes to perform well at scale.”

The reliance on sub-optimal microorganisms has many negative consequences, including low yields, requiring more fermentation batches to achieve the targeted output; long fermenter retention times, resulting in fewer batches per unit time; the design of complex and expensive processes to circumvent the limitations of the biocatalyst; and a reliance on expensive, refined feedstocks.

According to Crécy, BioTork offers an easy to implement, cost-effective solution to the robustness problem.

“In brief, appropriate microorganisms are continuously grown under environmental conditions, which are similar to those met in the target bioconversion process. As generations of microorganisms succeed one another, natural selection favours those organisms, which perform best. After this natural selection has occurred, highly adapted microorganisms are isolated and ready to be scaled up for further use in an industrial plant,” he explains further.

Using a state-of-the-art patented proprietary technology, BioTork has mastered an industrial methodology based on evolutionary optimisation. Instead of adapting the production process to the metabolic limitations of the microorganisms, BioTork adapts the microorganisms to perform optimally in the production process. Crécy believes that only those industries that will push this selection principle to its maximum will succeed in the fermentation pathways; first, with better performance of the microbe they will capture strong competitive advantage, second, they will also conquer margins for further downsizing their production units; the smaller size a process can be profitable at, the more adaptability it has to penetrate smaller markets, the more it can resist periodic economical fluctuation of cost of feedstock and of energy.

The Impact of Shale Gas Boom
According to Crécy, shale gas boom will certainly affect the renewable industry until it reaches full maturity, and, again, the fossil oil-based industry is defending hardly its position. “Every time it reduces the cost of oil, it is hurting the nascent renewable industry. As always, markets do have the first word.”

“However,” he adds further, ”if the industry produces negative environmental results, regulation will impose rules and constraints in our countries as the public opinion is more and more aware and putting pressure on politics. Thus, helping the renewable industry to mature is key and our contribution to solving the robustness problem will be instrumental in a durable establishment of this nascent industry.”

End Users’ Perspective
End Users’ perspective goes a long way to determine the market dynamics. “Environmental considerations and public opinion promoting green solutions have always been particularly important in Europe and in the United States.”

However, Crécy is of the opinion that in more recent years, end users’ in Asia have also demonstrated a growing public awareness of environmental impacts. As protests have increased in scale and frequency, projects in China, India or Japan have been postponed or cancelled with significant financial consequences for governments, companies and their investors. He comments, “In several cases, the chemical industry has been the target of protesting communities. We definitely believe that end users will have a growing impact on the market dynamics. Market actors will have to take this into consideration.”

Advantages
Crécy also compares the bio-based renewable chemicals market with the conventional chemicals derived from hydrocarbons and throws light on the advantages. “First, the big advantage of fossil oil-based chemistry compared to bio-based renewable chemicals is they have spent decades to optimally use the whole barrel as a feedstock with no waste, while most of the bio-based renewable chemicals are not yet there with by-products and waste often poorly valued. For the bio-renewable industry, it is critical to focus on the ‘no waste’-principle. Second, to conquer and establish a new product in the market, the quality of the product is of the essence. Biodiesel can be regarded as an example of a market failure because its quality varies so much, depending on the quality of the feedstock; such variability is unacceptable for a drop-in fuel. Third, as the bio-based renewable chemical production becomes more and more attractive from an economic point of view, they will replace conventional chemicals.”

Research and Development
On integration of renewable chemicals in the existing processes, he replies that it is always case-by-case scenario and dependent on conditions. He emphasises “it is critical to develop microbiology and fermentation knowledge and expertise to develop the renewable industry based on fermentation as an add-on to existing chemical industry.”

BioTork is currently working on the alternative feed production for the aquaculture industry. The company is enhancing the value of agro-industrial by-products dramatically and alleviating the constraints of aquaculture challenge by providing quality feedstock at very competitive price levels. “This specific development program is now scaling up. Another field is the ethanol industry, whose feedstock is not optimally valued. The same is true for the ethanol fermentation process itself and its by-products. Having started from scratch a few years ago, our workforce now consists of 20 highly skilled, talented and dedicated people. 2015 will be a year of substantial growth for the company,” the CEO adds.

Crécy believes that Europe, especially Germany, and the United States, will remain strong. He also reckons on an even bigger growth in Asia, especially in China, Japan and India. At this moment, BioTork’s focus is on America. However, the company is observing the Indian market very closely and is thrilled by its potential. BioTork can make any fermentation industry more competitive. “We would definitely be looking at proposals coming from India as this is a very promising market,” he adds.

Using a state-of-the-art patented proprietary technology, BioTork has mastered an industrial methodology based on evolutionary optimization. Instead of adapting the production process to the metabolic limitations of the microorganisms, BioTork adapts the microorganisms to perform optimally in the production process.

There is an enormous difference between being able to perform a task and being able to perform said task well enough to be economically competitive. At BioTork, we believe that the biochemical industry suffers from what we call the ‘robustness problem’, or the failure of the microorganisms involved in the bioconversion processes to perform well at scale. The reliance on sub-optimal microorganisms has many negative consequences, including:
  • Low yields, requiring more fermentation batches to achieve the targeted output.
  • Long fermenter retention times, resulting in fewer batches per unit time.
  • The design of complex and expensive processes to circumvent the limitations of the biocatalyst.
  • A reliance on expensive, refined feedstocks.
BioTork’s Evolutionary Optimization Method offers an easy to implement, cost-effective solution to the robustness problem. In brief, appropriate microorganisms are continuously grown under environmental conditions, which are similar to those met in the target bioconversion process. As generations of microorganisms succeed one another, natural selection favors those organisms, which perform best. After this natural selection has occurred, highly adapted microorganisms are isolated and ready to be scaled up for further use in an industrial plant. BioTorks industrialization methodology helps selecting microorganisms displaying improved characteristics such as those with:
  • High growth rates at sub-optimal temperatures, pH and/or aeration;
  • High resistance to inhibition and toxicity by reaction byproducts;
  • High culture density;
  • High metabolic activity (i.e. high bioconversion yield); and
  • Adaptation capacity to various, non-refined nutrient sources (e.g.; raw glycerol, crop residue).
Another major advantage of using BioTork technology is that provided the microorganism has not been previously genetically modified, the improved strains produced are naturally occurring variants of the original parent strain. No foreign gene has been inserted and no existing gene has been artificially removed.

Having non-GMO microbes is crucial, especially if the end product is intended for food, feed, nutraceutical or cosmeceutical markets, where stringent GMO regulations and negative public perceptions exist. This “blow-back” has made it difficult for GMO microbes to penetrate certain important markets. BioTork’s technology has broken through the barriers to natural breeding, making rapid and robust adaptation of microbes for industrial conditions possible. Not only can this method be used to fix the ‘robustness problem’ that plagues genetic engineering, it can be used to supplant genetic engineering altogether as a strain development tool. BioTork’s technology truly represents a revolution in the fermentation industry, allowing us to reevaluate each industrial process with a candid new eye - either improving the efficiency of existing processes or finally eliminating obstacles that have thus far prevented promising new industries from developing.

- Harshal Y Desai