Towards a sustainable alternative to palm oil for food, fuels and beyond

Towards a sustainable alternative to palm oil for food, fuels and beyond

Case study by University of Bath

 

Palm oil mainUniversity of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies brings together multidisciplinary expertise of scientists and engineers working with industry for a sustainable future.

Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) has rapidly become an important hub for sustainable chemistry in the UK since its establishment in 2008. Currently there are 110 academics involved, 23 industrial partners, and the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training has supported 132 PhD Students.

CSCT develops new molecules, materials, processes and systems from the lab right through to industrial application, with an emphasis on practical sustainability. CSCT’s scientists and engineers work together with industry to meet the needs of current and future generations around four main themes: Energy and Water, Renewable Feedstocks and Biotechnology, Processes and Manufacturing, and Healthcare Technologies.

In 2011, CSCT and Airbus began a partnership to investigate renewable jet fuels, this led to the development of a novel biotechnological organism that has spurned multiple further collaborative ventures in other applications from food production to the pharmaceutical industry. The lead academic, Dr. Chris Chuck, established his independent career as a Whorrod Research Fellow within the CSCT and is now a Reader in the Department of Chemical Engineering. CSCT and Airbus started collaborating through two PhD studentships, with the aim to develop a yeast platform for bio jet fuels.

Dr. Chuck’s group discovered a little known yeast, found in wine cultures, which can produce a composition similar to palm oil, with the potential to be converted into a bio-fuel and an array of other higher value compounds. Further funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) followed to develop the concept further with Croda Europe, including scale up at the Croda site. At this point, the team determined that while a palm oil substitute was plausible it would need further development of the yeast and work from across the supply chain. To this end a larger consortium was built including three departments from the University of Bath, Croda, AB Agri, C-Tech and the University of York. The consortia were awarded an Industrial Biotechnology (IB) catalyst early stage translation project worth £4m. The project is ongoing and now includes Accenture management consultants, who are working on supply chain analysis, a private equity firm aiding in the financing for a scaled up enterprise and a number of end-users willing to test the oils and proteins in their products.

“We are close to realising the true potential of this work, right the way through from an idea to a potential process. None of this would have been possible without a whole range of UK industries being willing to collaborate with us in speculative research projects, sharing their expertise and guidance or just helping us meet the right people along the way.” Dr. Chris Chuck, University of Bath Department of Chemical Engineering Reader 

This case study represents just one of many projects that are taking place in the CSCT, which has received over £34.1m in research funding from several partners including UK Research Councils, Innovate UK, European Commission and Private Companies. Our partners greatly value participation in the Centre through partnership in collaborative research projects, hosting of internships, participation in postgraduate training and involvement in an industrial forum.

Published: 4 October 2018

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

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