The firm, which has bases around the world, said materials such as starch from corn or cellulosic biomass from agricultural waste are converted into sugars, just as in the production of biofuels. These sugars are then transformed into chemical building blocks by enzymes or microorganisms that have been designed specifically for this purpose.
The company is now in the process of outlicensing the fungal solution to commercial partners. Malic acid occurs naturally in fruits and many vegetables. In the food and beverage industries, it is added to enhance the sour flavour in products such as jellies, juices and soft drinks.
“This is our first biochemical building block and a major milestone towards building a biochemical industry together with partners,” said Novozymes’ executive vice president Thomas Videbaek.
Concerns about crude oil scarcity
“Oil-based products are all around us, and biochemicals produced from renewable raw materials meet a global need for sustainable alternatives. This need is growing due to concerns about crude oil scarcity and price fluctuations.”
Novozymes started its research in biochemicals in 2006 and has since introduced several projects enabling their sustainable and cost-competitive production. It is primarily developing the enzymes or microorganisms that enable production of biochemicals with partners including Cargill (in the field of acrylic acid processing).
Novozymes estimates that the global market for malic acid, which can also be converted into other chemical derivatives used for plastic, polymer and resin products, is about 60,000t a year. It is worth $130m and is growing at about 4% annually.