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Novozymes: ‘Remarkable’ enzyme breakthrough promises radical efficiency boost for HFCS production

By Elaine WATSON , 28-Feb-2014
Last updated the 28-Feb-2014 at 17:03 GMT

In starch conversion, a small increase in yield can make a significant difference to the bottom line
In starch conversion, a small increase in yield can make a significant difference to the bottom line

Novozymes has developed a "completely new" enzyme it claims will prove a game-changer for the sweeteners industry by making the process of converting starch into products such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), crystalline dextrose and fermented products significantly more efficient. 

LpHera is a new alpha-amylase used in the liquefaction stage of starch conversion that creates more dextrose and cuts chemical, water and energy costs, Novozymes’ global launch manager for food Thomas Nilsson told FoodNavigator-USA.

This is quite remarkable, as there has not been much new innovation in the starch industry in recent times. It is the biggest innovation from an enzymatic perspective in the last 10 years.

“It is something completely new – it creates value beyond liquefaction which conventional alpha-amylases do not.  And because we’re breaking conventions, starch processors can now begin to seek downstream improvements that they never experienced before, for example, in ion exchange.”

He added: “Producers of HFCS benefit from more efficient evaporation and water and energy savings. In crystalline dextrose production, it ensures higher crystallization yield, and when producing fermented products, it achieves higher yield and better byproducts with lower salt levels.” 

LpHera increases dextrose yields by 0.2 % points

So how does it work?

There are four basic steps in starch conversion, explained Nilsson: First, separation, where the raw material (eg. corn) is milled to separate starch from oil, protein and fibers. Enzymes ease this process and the starch is usually present in a water slurry which is passed on to the next stage, liquefaction. Here alpha-amylase breaks down large starch molecules into maltodextrins.   

In the third stage, saccharification, enzymes break the maltodextrins into smaller glucose molecules, while in the fourth stage, isomerization, the glucose is converted into fructose, which enables the production of HFCS.

An apparently small increase can be very significant for big starch processors

Typically, firms have to add chemicals to raise pH levels before liquefaction can begin (because the enzymes needed to facilitate liquefaction are unstable at the lower pH), and then add more chemicals at the end of the process to bring the pH back down again for the saccharification stage, which is not very efficient, he said.

“LpHera brings the liquefaction pH level as low as 4.5-4.8. This means you can reduce your use of pH chemicals by more than 50%.  It also prolongs the ion exchange service cycle – and that means that you have fewer regenerations in a given timespan which means you can save on chemicals, water, wastewater and your resins have a longer life time.

“LpHera also increases dextrose yields by 0.2 % points.  That may sound like a small increase, but these customers are processing enormous amount of starch every day.  So an apparently small increase can be very significant.”

The net result is the lowest total cost of conversion in the industry, he said. 

LpHera saves a starch processor up to $1 per metric ton of substrate

Asked to quantify the benefits, he said: “Through boosting yields, cutting chemical usage in half and facilitating water and energy savings, LpHera saves a starch processor up to $1 per metric ton of substrate. Starch plants vary in size and can process from 0.2 to over 1 million tons of substrate each year. So if a plant processes 0.5 million tons of substrate, they can so save up to $0.5 million dollars per year compared to today’s technology.”

So what reaction has Novozymes had from the trade?

“The solution has been successfully tested globally using different raw material in industrial scale for more than six months,” said Nilsson.

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