How bio-based solvents can deliver a greener food sector

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A bio-based solution to replace petro-chemical-based solvents could bring environmental and safety benefits to the edible oil extraction industry, as well as to the plant protein, natural colorant and aroma sectors. Norbert Patouillard, Director of Sales and Marketing at Pennakem, discusses the extensive R&D that has gone into this innovation, as well as his firm’s commitment to creating a greener future.

The extraction of edible oils, proteins and natural colorants is often achieved using hexane, a petro-chemical-based solvent that leaves a large carbon footprint and presents a potential health risk to workers. A key issue for industry has been to find an environmentally-friendly and safe solvent that offers the same levels of efficiency.

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“We want people to take away from Food ingredients Europe 2019 the fact that there is now a way to replace petro-chemical solvents in food processes,” says Patouillard. “We strongly believe that the food processing industry has an interest in replacing petro-chemicals. Our bio-based chemical, sourced from renewable feedstock, is safe for workers, safe for the consumer and safer for the environment.”

Investing in the future
Renewable chemistry firm Pennakem has been working on this food processing solution since 2012, following the successful implementation of bio-based solvents in the pharma sector. Several interesting properties were identified that could be used in extraction processes. From this starting point, the food industry was identified as a viable target market, given its extensive use of petrochemical solvents.

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Several years of intense R&D followed, to show that bio-based solvents could be used for edible oil extraction and human plant-based protein production. This work was supported by extensive safety studies and environmental assessments. Results obtained on several seed substrates have been shown to be in full compliance with industrial standards.

“A lot of thought has gone into this,” says Patouillard. “If you want to replace a petro-chemical with something new, the minimum you have to do is show that it is safe. This is something that takes time and money.” The innovation is currently at project level. Proof of concept has been achieved, and trials are continuing at the pilot scale. “The next step for us is to launch a large-scale demonstration plant, to show that this solution is chemically viable and can be implemented very quickly,” says Patouillard. “Discussions are ongoing with various partners.”  

In parallel to scaling up industrial production, market approval from authorities in the US and Europe is being sought. “We have been building up a strong dossier since 2012, and we are ready to submit this before years’ end,” he says. “We are very confident.”

Enlightened entrepreneurship
Once ready for market, Pennakem will begin by targeting the edible oil extraction and protein extraction sectors. Both use large quantities of petrobased process aids every year, and are key growth markets. Smaller segments along the food chain such as aroma and natural colorant extraction also stand to benefit from replacing petro-chemical solvents with an efficient renewable source.

Patouillard, a chemist by training who also holds a Master degree in sales and marketing, spent more than 15 years in petro-derived chemical companies before joining Pennakem in 2011 to focus on renewable chemistry. It is this technical background combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, he believes, that inspired him to push for the development of this solution.

“I really believe we can be successful here,” says Patouillard. “The sustainability of the food industry requires us to address challenges that are not yet resolved. My moto is to always keep going. I think that innovation and entrepreneurship should be used to achieve a better world, for workers as well as for consumers.”

Norbert Patouillard, Director of Sales and Marketing at Pennakem, will deliver a presentation on “A new eco-friendly breakthrough biobased solution for clean label oils and plant proteins” on 3 December at 15:15 at the Fi Conference.