Evolva, Wageningen and Algae.Tec advance on high-margin bio-opportunities

May 26, 2016 |

BD TS 052716 evolva smSweeteners, acrylic, and nutraceuticals led the news at the end of this week, with key announcements out of Evolva, Wageningen and Algae.Tec.

Over at Evolva: major patent win on sweeteners

In Switzerland, the European Patent Office granted Evolva a patent that the company deemed “pivotal to the commercial expansion of and broader access to the best-tasting stevia-sweeteners made possible through the introduction of yeast fermentation-derived steviol glycosides.”

What’s up here? Well, there are two kinds of stevia — the revolutionary zero calorie sweetener. There’s the bad tasting kind and the good tasting kind. At a molecular level, they’re known as Reb A (bad) and Reb D and Reb M (good). Evolva secured a patent on a process to convert Reb A to Reb D and Reb M through fermentation.

Earlier, you may recall that Evolva uncovered Evolva the enzymes capable of carrying out the key unknown steps in the Reb A and Reb D biosynthesis pathways. This discovery enables the production of these steviol glycosides through bioprocessing, solving the taste and cost conundrum of stevia sweeteners that has limited their broader commercial use.

Over at Wageningen: a new way to make bio-based plexiglass

In the Netherlands, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research has developed a chemical process for producing methacrylic acid from itaconic acid. Methacrylic acid is currently still produced from fossil resources and its polymers are used to coatings and textiles, as well as in alternatives for glass, such as plexiglas.

Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research wants to take a significant step forward in the production of itaconic acid and methacrylic acid for high value materials, such as coatings and inks. These acids that are produced from biomass are interesting alternatives for components that are currently still produced from fossil resources. In the ‘MethaForm’-project, Wageningen UR collaborates with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), EOC Belgium and Van Wijhe Paint on the further development of itaconic acid and methacrylic acid as building blocks for performance materials.

In the MethaForm-project researchers aim to show that the bio- based building blocks can be processed in the same way as their petrochemical analogues. MethaForm is complaint with the ambitions of the Dutch Topsector Chemistry, which strives to make the Netherlands the country for green chemistry by 2050, as well as part of the top three producers of smart materials. The MethaForm-project is part of the large-scale research programme Biobased Performance Materials (BPM).

Over at Algae.Tec: a distribution and development deal with Gencor Pacific

In Australia, Algae. Tec signed an exclusive supply agreement with Gencor, a leading worldwide supplier of health supplements through it’s worldwide operations and group companies.  The supply agreement gives Gencor the exclusive rights to buy all of the algae oil and powders produced by the Algae.Tec plant in Cummings, Georgia, for nutraceutical applications.

Algae. Tec’s plant is designed to initially produce approximately 50 tonnes per year of high value algae for Gencor and the nutraceutical market. The Company is now working to increase this production capacity to approximately 1,000 tonnes per year with a revenue of over $50million per year.

The current global market for algae-based nutraceutical products exceeds 21,000 metric tonnes per annum, representing approximately a $1.3 billion per year market with 6% to over 20% annual growth rates.

What’s the trend?

All the announces are developmental in  nature — patents, R&D, product supply for future formulations. So, why a big deal?

Especially in the case of Evolva, we see a migration away from a conundrum that has plagued the biobased sector — better to focus on high margin small markets, or low margin large markets?

The clear alternative is high margin large markets — and those arrive only because there is a disruptive technology that solves a severe supply chain problem that is artifically driving up prices and creating high margins in larger markets that should have low-margin commodity characteristics. Think, for example, of selling bottled water after a hurricane.

Stevia represents — and sweeteners as a whole — a big opportunity. The world would like to have a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. But taste problems with traditional Reb A stevia and the small quantities and ferocious costs of Reb D and Reb M have stood in the way. It’s like getting the price of a seller’s marklet with the cost structures and production capabilities of a buyer’s market.

“You’d have to plant stevia over an area equivalent to 1/4 of Belgium just to replace the sweetener requirements for lemon lime flavor in the US,” Evolva COO Simon Waddington noted at the Malaysia Life Sciences Limited Partners meeting this week in California. “If you think that’s a good use for Belgium.”

“Fermentation-based stevia is complimentary to plant-derived not competitive. It’s solving the supply chain issues of nature, yet there’s established infrastructure, and with companies like Cargill working on Eversweet you’ve got major players bringing produt to market. What you get from a field, get from a field. But when you need to develop more Reb M and via fermentation, that complements the traditinoal production of REB A.”

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