Paloma Juárez / 15 May 2024

Biorefineries. Sustainable Industrial Interest Molecules

The reliance on fossil sources and the amount of raw materials required for obtaining value-added ingredients for the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries necessitates the search for more sustainable alternatives. Industrial biotechnology positions itself as one of the solutions due to its sustainable approach and productive efficiency. Within this discipline, Biorefineries are emerging, a practice that is generating interest in the business sector.

Why Biorefineries in the Current Competitive Environment

We refer to biorefineries as those organisms that have the capacity (either natural or induced) to produce industrially interesting molecules with high efficiency. These molecules may include phytohormones to stimulate plant growth, pharmaceutical active ingredients, bioactive ingredients for functional foods, cosmetic actives, bio-preservatives, or biomaterials, to name a few examples.

Many of these molecules are currently being produced from fossil sources (for example, many polymeric materials, surfactants, and other industrially relevant substances) or require large amounts of raw materials for their production (such as certain aromas and bioactive compounds), or are sourced from origins that require an alternative due to ethical or environmental considerations. It is in these cases that the use of biorefinery organisms becomes particularly important, as they can offer a more sustainable, economical, and environmentally friendly alternative to current methods for obtaining industrially interesting molecules.

Sometimes, the goal with biorefineries is not to find an alternative to an existing molecule but to discover molecules with novel functionalities, such as certain pharmaceutical actives or cosmetics currently derived from specific mammalian or plant cells.

Functioning and Benefits Provided by Biorefineries

In most cases, the production platform is based on microorganisms or cell cultures, requiring a bioreactor where a suitable culture medium and the microorganism or cell culture acting as a biorefinery are introduced. Once the process is completed, separation and stabilization operations necessary to obtain the molecule in optimal conditions for use are initiated.

In this process, the key aspect is the microorganism or cell to be used as a biorefinery. For certain molecules, it may be possible to find a microorganism that naturally produces them. However, in many cases, the microorganism might produce the molecule in very low concentrations or not at all. It is in these instances where genetic engineering techniques are necessary to achieve efficient and sustainable production.

Applying these techniques requires a set of tools, known as “expression vectors” and “genetic parts,” which are used to genetically modify the biorefinery organism, thus adapting its functionality as needed. The quality of these tools greatly influences the efficiency of both the development process and the subsequent production process with the developed microorganism.

Within the framework of initiatives funded by IVACE (Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness) in collaboration with AINIA to develop transferable R&D activities to the industrial fabric, we are working on creating new genetic engineering tools to carry out gene design for the production of different types of proteins and even complete metabolic pathways. Through the development of these biorefineries, we can reach a viable solution more quickly and efficiently adapted to each case.

Moreover, at AINIA we can develop the complete production process: from the microorganism to the final product, as we have experience and equipment at each development phase. Are you interested in adding efficiency and sustainability? Contact us.

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Paloma Juárez (12 articles)

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Paloma Juárez
Biotecnología Industrial

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