Succinic acid, an EU approved additive also known as E363, can be used as an acidifier in beverages and in food applications such as relishes for example. It is also said to combine with proteins in modifying the plasticity of bread dough.
The bio-base trend is gathering momentum within the food industry but until recently, petroleum-based production was said to be the only way to make succinic acid in industrial quantities.
DSM, headquartered in the Netherlands, joined with the French starch and starch-derivatives company Roquette, to develop a method to produce succinic acid from starch rather than crude oil and natural gas, using an “innovative enzyme-based fermentation technologys”.
Now they claim that pilot-scale production at a plant in Lestrem (France) has proven that the acid, when produced using biological means, is commercially viable and the first tests for customers are already underway.
Succinic acid is a chemical building block used in the manufacture of food, polymers, resins and pharmaceuticals among other products.
Christophe Rupp-Dahlem, a director at Roquette, told FoodNavigator.com that the world market for succinic acid was roughly 30,000 tonnes per year.
Although the food industry was only a small part of that, he said that it is considered a growing market with potential for bio-based succinic acid.
Rupp-Dahlem added: “We expect to have large scale production in 2012 and the capacity will be larger than 10,000 tonnes per year.”
The spokesman claimed that it was “expensive” to produce the acid via the petrochemical route and the bio-based method aimed to be price-competitive.
In addition there were environmental benefits as he said: “It is more attractive because we have changed the process and have bio-based succinic acid sourced from glucose.”
The production method is said to offer a potential 40 per cent reduction in energy requirements compared to the traditional method. It could also have a positive impact on reducing CO2 emissions, as carbon dioxide is actually used in the production process.
Plan of action
A demonstration plant is currently being built at the Lestrem site and this will be followed by a manufacturing plant. The companies said the manufacturing process will be refined further before it is scaled-up to full commercial industrial production in 2011/2012.
Other companies going down the bio-base route include Danisco which said its strategy is to evolve into a "focused, bio-based, market-driven ingredients provider”. The company has predicted that in 20 years time, we will be living in a bio-based economy.
Meanwhile in 2008 Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and PolyOne, announced a collaboration to produce bio-based plasticizers from corn and oilseeds for polymer formulations, in response to strong market interest in renewable technology.
Last year Roquette signed a licensing deal with Rice University, Texas, obtaining the right to commercialize technologies by Rice professors Ka-Yiu San and George Bennett, who genetically engineered E. coli bacteria that produce high yields of succinic acid through fermentation.
Rupp-Dahlem said this was just one part of the process and technology it is using.