Commercially manufactured Omega 3 by fermentation. (Photo: Photonz Corporation/FIS)
Microalgae company transfers process to industrial scale pilot plant
Friday, November 25, 2011, 02:30 (GMT + 9)
Biotech company Photonz Corporation has achieved a major milestone on the path to commercially manufacturing, by fermentation, the high-value omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
It has successfully transferred its strain and fermentation process, developed in Auckland, to a contract facility in Canada, which has then used that process to ferment material from algal biomass in a 7.5 tonne industrial scale reactor.
This demonstrates the feasibility of commercial production of EPA from marine microalgae.
The Canadian facility has a battery of reactors and support utilities that enable it to operate multi-tonne scale fermentations under industrial conditions.
During the project it produced sufficient biomass for Photonz to complete development of the downstream purification processes for its EPA product, also at pilot industrial scale.
The work has been carried out in three stages. The first was the process transfer phase, where the Canadian team ran Photonz's process at a large laboratory scale, growing Photonz's proprietary organisms in media that they had sourced and prepared.
Then, in the process duplication phase, the Canadian team successfully duplicated Photonz's process on its first attempt.
This was conducted at a large pilot scale, similar to that operated by Photonz in its Auckland facility.
The product was comparable to that produced in Auckland, indicating that the process is robust and can be reproduced by following Photonz's procedures.
Finally, the team scaled the culture up through a complete 'seed chain' and transferred it into a 7.5 tonne fermenter.
They grew this culture to harvest density and then operated successive harvests and refills in a semi-continuous mode, ultimately producing about 20 tonnes of fermentation product.
Photonz will now use the harvested biomass to accelerate development of its downstream purification process.
"To transfer our process to other hands at a second facility, with no material alteration to performance or product, is a huge achievement because what works in one plant doesn't always work in another," says Photonz Chief Executive, Greg Moss-Smith.
"It demonstrates the robustness of our processes and the quality of work done by the team to date.
"The success of this project also represents a large reduction in the risks involved in implementing our process at full industrial scale.
"We are now highly confident that the process will work in the kinds of plant and operating conditions typically available at industrial facilities.
"Furthermore, by successfully operating the process at 7.5 tonne scale we have also greatly mitigated the risk of other unknown factors interfering with our ability to run industrial scale processes.
"Scaling up production from hundreds to thousands of litres is far more difficult than scaling up from thousands to tens or even hundreds of thousands of litres.
"As a result of the success of this project I have confirmed to our investors that we remain on track to manufacture, in 2012, an industrial scale end-product that addresses a massive opportunity in the USD 60 billion cardiovascular disease market", Moss-Smith said.