Advancing enzymatic processes in the industry through Knowledge Sharing
One of the most important aspects of INCITE is the commitment of the partners to a value that is crucial to science: knowledge sharing. To achieve this, the consortium organized a workshop during IFIB 2023, before an audience made up of its stakeholders. The objective was to showcase the progress made thanks to the collaborative work within the project and push the boundaries of industrial enzymatic process production.
Highlighting the scope and potential of enzymes in the industry, Yamini Satyawali from VITO mentioned among others, regioselectivity as a characteristic that give them an added value. In her opinion, the scientific world has enough hindsight on the potential of enzymes since they “(…) have been using enzymes in food and beverages from historical times(…)” and “(…) 50 years ago it became evident that enzymes have a lot more potential and they can be used in organic synthesis (…).” But despite this “(…) the use of enzymes in the industrial part in industrial processes is still not the mainstream”. Adopt an enzymatic process to synthesize esters instead of traditional chemicals, allow to lower the reaction temperature “(…) from 100 to 150 degree”. For enzymes to become mainstream, the following lock need to be overcome: the scope of demonstrated successful use of enzymes in industrial synthesis need to be expanded, said Yamini. Hence the importance of an initiative like INCITE that makes the proof of concept of the implementation of enzymatic processes in two industrial fields: oleochemical and agrochemical with Oleon and ENDURA.
During his presentation, Maurizio Bettiga from BiCT, discussed the drawbacks of enzymes in an industrial process such as unfavorable kinetics of certain enzymes: the product inhibition. Product inhibition is a phenomenon where the product of the enzymatic reaction binds to the active site of the enzyme, leading to a decrease in the enzyme’s activity. This inhibition is a form of feedback regulation that helps maintain the balance of cellular processes and prevents the over-accumulation of certain metabolites. What can be undesirable in an industrial context where a quick conversion is needed. The degree of product inhibition depends on several factors (concentration of the product, the enzyme’s affinity for the product, etc.). In the framework of INCITE, one of the role of BiCT is to optimize their combination.
Then, Régis Essis from Bioeconomy for Change broached the market aspect linked to both Oleochemical and agrochemical tracks of the project, analyzing the trends and opportunities for products developed through enzymatic processes. Among others, he mentioned consumer awareness, product properties, process safety and raw materials demand as drivers of the dynamic of the market. A market which is steadily increasing since 2020.
Following him, Pieter Nachtergaele from Ghent University explained the paramount importance of performing a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment to support the implementation of new industrial processes like those in INCITE. Insofar as it makes it possible to assess their performance in a comprehensive way, integrating environmental, economic, and social impacts. One the outcomes of the Social Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment performed in the framework of INCITE is the determination of recommendation, to optimize the use of enzymes and utilities used for the production.
As representative of the Ghent team in charge of the training part of INCITE, Stijn Vandenbroucke highlighted the initiatives of the project to share with the stakeholders the knowledge gained. 10 learning modules were recorded, made available online for free and attended by more than 2000 participants ranging from students and researchers to industrials. This testifies about the large adoption of the project and the potential of the enzymes.
As a reminder, INCITE aimed to demonstrate novel integrated upstream and downstream processing paths involving flow chemistry and membrane technology in chemo-enzymatic processes. The modularity and flexibility of the developed processes is showcased through two demonstration case: the oleochemical track with Oleon and the agrochemical track with Endura.