Activatec develops purification strategies for high value ingredients LBA and GOS

Activatec Ltd evaluates and develops processes to manufacture innovative bio-based ingredients from unused and low-value organic sources. In this interview, our project partner Jose Luis Molto Marin talks about the development of purification processes specifically designed for LBA and GOS from whey.

What products and processes have you contributed to developing in INGREEN? 
Activatec has developed purification strategies to create high-value ingredients LBA and GOS that can be used in nutraceutical and cosmetic products. We developed the process to purify lactobionic acid (LBA) from the lactobionic acid-enriched whey that was produced by the University of Bologna by fermenting whey from the Mambelli dairy. The LBA matrix is a complex solution consisting of salts, proteins, the remaining lactose and  LBA among others. A simple filtration process is not sufficient to purify LBA, it requires a sequence of downstream operations to be able to obtain a product of similar purity to those currently available on the market. We have been able to develop this process and test it using real samples at a 1-litre-scale.

Activatec also analysed the technical and economic viability and impact of the newly proposed whey-to-LBA and GOS value chains.

What is the reason your company participated in this BBI project?
Consumer demand for ‘sustainable’ labelled products is increasing rapidly. This has created opportunities for biotech to produce bio-based ingredients with high activity efficacies and create a new market for ingredients from clean and sustainable sources. Activatec is focused on the bioproduction of sustainable biotech ingredients using industrial waste streams or the bio-valorisation of low-value products derived from them.

Currently, LBA is mainly produced via electrochemical oxidation of highly purified lactose using bromine salt chemical catalysts. However, dairy product manufacturers produce  180-190 million tonnes of whey per annum, which is still a poorly exploited natural resource. It makes sense to use this whey directly to produce a more sustainable LBA.

Your company has shown its commitment to sustainability by participating in the INGREEN project. What other activities has Activatec conducted to improve sustainability?
We are also part of another Horizon 2020 project called DEEP PURPLE. This project is developing high-value bio-products such as Ectoine, an active ingredient that protects the skin from stresses like UV irradiation and dryness. Together with the University of Valladolid, Activatec produces Ectoine by fermenting a greenhouse gas, a side stream, which has the added benefit that it reduces emissions. Moreover, Activatec also contributes to this project by developing a new chloroform-free process to purify a biodegradable bioplastic called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). These PHAs are produced by bacteria that clean the wastewater, much like the PHA produced in INGREEN from paper milling wastewater. PHAs have many valuable applications such as disposable tableware, packaging films and bottling.

Jose Luis Molto Marin has a chemical engineering background and extensive management and engineering experience in private companies as a project manager, technical coordinator and work package leader in innovation projects including more than 10 collaborations in the EU and UK on industrial biotech, circular economy, and chemical and environmental processes. Jose has also acted as an expert evaluator for the European Research Executive Agency. In 2018, he co-founded Activatec Ltd, an R&D SME based in Nottingham which develops sustainable biotechnologies and biobased high-value innovative products for cosmetic and nutraceutical products.

Photo: Jose Luis Molto Marin