‘Green electrochemistry’ could pave way for more cost effective production of erythritol, says trailblazing DFI Corp

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Electrochemistry could slash erythritol production costs, says DFI

Related tags: Sweeteners

Biotech firm Dynamic Food Ingredients (DFI) Corporation is a step closer to commercialising technology it claims could slash production costs for the bulk sweetener erythritol, opening up new opportunities for the food industry.

Tooth friendly, zero calorie (0.2cals/g), good for diabetics (it doesn’t raise blood sugar), and well-tolerated in the gut (unlike some other polyols); erythritol is about 60-70% as sweet as sugar.

It also blends well with high intensity sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit and is used in everything from reduced sugar ice cream, confectionery, baked goods, beverages, and table-top sweeteners such as Truvia and Nectresse and Perfecta.

However, its high price has proved a barrier for many firms, DFI president Paul Magnotto told FoodNavigator-USA.

Producing erythritol via fermentation can take several days. Our method takes less than an hour

But why is it so expensive? And are there ways of getting the cost down?

Typically, firms producing erythritol in commercial quantities do so via fermentation (where a sugar-rich substrate is fermented by a specialized yeast strain to yield erythritol), he said, although it can also be produced via chemical synthesis.

However, this is a slow process and the yields are not great, he claimed.

By contrast DFI has patented a ‘green electrochemistry’ process developed at Purdue University - and licensed to DFI - that can deliver higher yields from the starter material (anything that contains glucose - typically corn) and slash production times, he said.

Producing erythritol via fermentation can take several days. Our method takes less than an hour and produces little or no waste. We also achieve a higher yield and we can maximise efficiency by selling the byproducts of the production process.”

Commercial scale facility likely to be in North Dakota

Paul Magnotto president DFI Corporation
DFI Corp president Paul Magnotto: 'Producing erythritol via fermentation can take several days. Our method takes less than an hour'

DFI’s technique (click here​ for details) involves passing raw materials through an electrolytic cell, a technique well known for treating water or making chlorine but not something that has been used for industrial-scale applications in food before.

Magnotto, who founded DFI Corporation with Jonathan Stapley (chief technology officer and co-inventor of DFI’s proprietary technology) in 2005, said DFI had been producing erythritol from a pilot plant in Buffalo, NY, for some time, and was now starting engineering work for a commercial scale facility likely to be built in North Dakota.

The chairman of the company is Ed Schafer, who served as US Secretary of Agriculture from 2008-2009 and as Governor of North Dakota from 1992-2000, said Magnotto.

He would not say when commercial quantities of erythritol might be available from the new facility, but said that it was “at least a year out”.

Longer-term, the company may also consider producing xylitol on a commercial scale using the patented technology, which was originally developed with xylitol in mind, he said.

Ed-Schafer-DFI-Corp
DFI chairman Ed Schafer was US secretary of agriculture in 2008-2009

“We started the company looking at xylitol, but we decided to focus on erythritol first as we felt that this was a bigger opportunity.”

Erythritol: Zero calories, toothfriendly, suitable for diabetics, and well tolerated by the digestive system

Erythritol is a low molecular weight polyol, comprising four carbon atoms.

A white crystalline, odorless product which rapidly dissolves in water to create a clear, low viscosity, colorless solution, it contributes no calories because it passes through the human body almost unchanged.  

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