Bühler Group accelerates advanced microalgae product development

The Swiss-based Bühler Group has confirmed that is pushing ahead with an advanced microalgae project with its Stellar Gemini system at SEC’s Urban Microalgae Protein project laboratory in Singapore, reports Neill Barston.

As the company revealed to Confectionery Production, its latest venture has potential applications across a number of fields including the creation of future snacking lines – as well as the advanced ingredient already featuring in sweets lines such as Smarties.

According to the company, its Stellar technology represents a global first, and is based on nanosecond pulsed electric fields. It will be used to increase the efficiency of microalgae processing. With its installation, the Urban Microalgae Protein project reaches a new milestone.

The SEC’s Urban Microalgae Protein project aims to develop a sustainable, urban single-cell protein production platform and microalgae-based food concepts with taste and nutrition profiles that meet consumer preferences.

This three-year project is based in Singapore, and is supported by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program.

“The Stellar technology will enable us to deliver industry relevant results to improve the eco-efficiency and productivity of microalgae supply chains by establishing a pulsed electric field (PEF)-based biorefinery as part of the Urban Microalgae Protein project,” says Dr Iris Haberkorn, project lead and senior scientist at SEC.

The first of its kind, Stellar technology uses nanosecond pulsed electric field processing to grow single-cell cultures, like microalgae, at a faster rate without biologically altering them. Stellar Gemini is the name of the device that enables the application of these pulses.

“The installed Stellar Gemini system enables application development and initial scale-up to pilot scale on a flexible and easy-to-use platform. Operators have access to Bühler’s extensive know-how while having full flexibility for independent application development, ensuring maximum efficiency in process development,” says Dr. Leandro Buchmann, Project Manager Bioprocessing at Bühler.

The company also added that its latest process increases efficiency by up to 30% by either increasing the capacity of the installed base or reducing resource requirements.

Furthermore, the ability to  process different organisms/strains from lab to an industrially relevant pilot scale. It is also a  natural physical process in addition to or as an alternative to feedstock optimisation.

“Nanosecond pulsed electric field processing can have a tremendous impact on the bio-based domain and the alternative protein sector focusing on single-cell-based value chains. Our research delivers the fundamentals to further leverage the technology,” says Dr Iris Haberkorn. “This is a step forward towards securing the supply of food and establishing resilient, sustainable agri-food systems.”

The deployment of the Stellar technology system is a result of the strong longstanding collaboration between the Bühler Group and ETH Zurich, which supports the SEC Microalgae project with know-how, experience, and expertise.

“Not only is the Stellar technology an outstanding example of technology transfer from academia into industry, it is also a great success story,” says Prof. Alexander Mathys, lead Principal Investigator of the Urban Microalgae Protein project. “We are proud that the scientific fundamentals developed at the ETH Zurich Sustainable Food Processing Laboratory led to the development of a first industrial prototype system within only two years through the tremendous effort of a great team at Bühler, enabling us to deliver industry-relevant results in the project.”

The project itself aims to enhance Singapore’s food security by establishing resilient, sustainable and cost-effective agri-food systems using microalgae-based food products. In Singapore, the ambitious ‘30 by 30’ target calls for an increase in capability and capacity to grow 30 per cent of total food needs locally and sustainably by 2030.

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