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Life Integrated Process for the Enzymatic Splitting of triglycerides

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - LIPES (Life Integrated Process for the Enzymatic Splitting of triglycerides)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-12-31

The LIPES project is dedicated to reaching the first market replication of an innovative production process leading to greener and healthier fatty acids.

The LIPES approach involves a process that replaces current thermal hydrolysis and saponification production routes with a new enzyme-based, environmentally friendly alternative.

It is expected to lead to the creation of high purity bio-based intermediates and end products from vegetable oils and fats.

The overall objectives of the LIPES project are therefore :
- To perform the scale-up to pre-industrial level of a new, economically viable and environmentally friendly alternative process leading to higher quality fatty acids and derivatives, therefore widening their range of application
- To Optimize resource efficiency with a minimum saving of 45% water consumption, 70% of enzymes and 80% of energetic consumption over traditional processes
- To contribute to reaching the EC goals on waste reduction by elaborating and evaluating new value chains for making use of agricultural co-products

Its main societal impacts will be:
- To strengthen the competitiveness of EU oleochemicals industry in a context of growing global competition by bringing high performance high quality products onto the market.
- To contribute to sustainability as highlighted above by optimizing resource efficiency
- To develop high quality products along the whole value chain and in particular zero trans fats grade of fatty acids with proven benefits in human health
The LIPES project delivered on the design & engineering of the demo plant for enzymatic hydrolysis that then led to the start-up of the demo plant, with a first run in July 2019.

Operation in continuous mode of the hydrolysis of sunflower seed oil got under way at demo scale at the end of 2020. Extension of demo scale operation to castor oil hydrolysis is also expected to take place in 2021, as substantial progress has been achieved on that topic in the improvement of reaction conditions, enzyme consumption/concentration improvements at lab and pilot scales.

In further details:
- maintenance and modifications aimed at optimizing the enzymatic process on the demo plant for the hydrolysis of sunflower/rapeseed oils are ongoing in line with continuous ton scale production runs.

- the enzymatic process for the hydrolysis of castor to ricinoleic acid, which requires more extensive optimization, has been validated at the 13L scale. It is expected to be transferred to demo scale in 2021 to fully assess the techno-economic viability.

In terms of products quality, the LIPES project is on course to meeting its stated objectives to producing zero trans fatty acids. It has been confirmed for high oleic sunflower, rapeseed and linseed oils that the enzymatic process developed in LIPES doesn’t lead to neoformed trans fatty acids in contrast with the standard thermal process, through which the natural trans fatty acid content is multiplied (eg from 0.3% to 1.2% for high oleic sunflower, whilst it remains constant through the enzymatic process).

The economic evaluation of the process is still aligned with predictions made at project start: current extrapolations from the stage at which each demonstration is for the enzymatic hydrolysis of vegetable oils indicate that production costs for the enzymatic hydrolysis of vegetable oils are below that of the thermal hydrolysis of the same oils, even though enzyme consumption still needs to be optimized.

This is made possible thanks to the lower temperature used in the process in particular as well as to the continued valorization of side stream glycerine rich products. Glycerine effluents are at the expected concentration levels (>20%) to serve as feed for the preparation of crude/refined glycerine grades in the glycerine plant.

Derivatization of enzymatically produced fatty acids has been performed to obtain polymer end-products. The polymerization recipe for the targeted polymer end products has been optimized and a pilot plant trial has taken place to prefigure a commercial scale production run. Nevertheless, there are outstanding issues in the quality of intermediate products to lead to satisfactory polymer end products. This will be investigated in 2021 and a pilot plant trial is expected to be re-run on melt polymerizations to produce sufficient amounts of co-polyester for injection molding and subsequent testing.

Two new hydrogenated dimer fatty acid monomers were obtained during this reporting period. A C44 based hydrogenated dimer fatty acid sample was produced. Its evaluation for the formation of targeted polymer end products was not satisfactory. Focus is therefore solely redirected on the C36 based polymers.

A first range of ester products derived from enzymatically synthesized fatty acids has been synthesized and evaluated: Polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR) and Glycerolmonooleate (GMO) as emulsifiers / surfactants for food and cosmetic applications. Overall, both compounds lead to equal or superior application performance.

Their becoming available will allow the LIPES consortium to speed up the promotion of the LIPES project outcomes in terms of newly developed technology and its key environmental benefits. So far this has been achieved through dissemination activities resulting in 35 communication opportunities, the identification of 5 topics for publications, 3 of which are in progress and the contribution to the preparation of 7 theses.

Also, a short professional film dedicated to the LIPES project has been elaborated to explain LIPES objectives and outcomes to a wide audience.

Finally, a life cycle analysis has been initiated and shows that the enzymatic route for the oil hydrolysis leads to a substantial CO2 emission saving. Next steps will focus on the improved measurements of the electrical energy consumption, of the life time of the enzyme and on a more detailed evaluation of environmental impacts.
Progress beyond the state of the art at the end of the second reporting period is explained in line with initially stated challenges:

1. Enzyme: An enzyme solution has been selected (castor oil hydrolysis), being produced by Biocatalysts ; expected conversion rate reached at lab scale, expected to be demonstrated in 2021

2. Free Fatty Acid enzymatically produced: Demo scale production of free fatty acids from one type of oil performed (sunflower), continuous ton scale operation in progress and expected to be extended to castor oil hydrolysis in 2021

3. Esters: Synthesis and application testing of esters has successfully been performed in cosmetic and food markets; it will be extended to lubricants markets

4. Dimers from Fatty Acid : C36 and C44 Hydrogenated dimers: Chemical Intermediates for Biomaterials: production of 200L pilot batches of C36 and C44 dimer fatty acids performed. C36 dimer fatty acids expected to be manufactured at ton demo scale in 2021.

5. Polymers, Co-Polyesters, BioMaterial / Biobased polymers for automotive and electronic industries and application of these polymers in automotive and electric markets: C36/C44 dimer fatty acid evaluated to form co-polyesters at pilot scale. Optimization still is required for the polymerization of C36 dimer fatty acids and subsequent evaluation in application. C44 dimer was not selected for further commercial development.
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