Danone and DMC to create platform to upscale precision fermentation

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The platform aims to upscale precision fermentation. Image Source: Getty Images/Arctic-Images
The platform aims to upscale precision fermentation. Image Source: Getty Images/Arctic-Images

Related tags Danone precision fermentation

Aiming to solve the infrastructure problem for companies using precision fermentation, Danone is, alongside partners Michelin, DMC Technologies, and Crédit Agricole, developing a platform to upscale it.

Danone wants to scale up precision fermentation. The multinational is partnering with manufacturing company Michelin, US start-up DMC Technologies and French banking group Crédit Agricole to develop a large platform for the production method.   

The Biotech Open Platform will give companies the means to significantly scale up their precision fermentation efforts. Located in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand, the platform will aim to help innovative precision fermentation-produced products to be produced en-masse, starting with those of its founders and then expanding outwards.

By 2025, the project plans to install a demo-scale production line, complete with a fermenter and purification equipment. More equipment, including a second production line, will follow.

Alongside the involvement of the four institutions listed, the platform will be supported by the company Greentech, the University of Clermont Auvergne, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and Clermont Auvergne Métropole.

What will the platform do?

While many start-ups have the capacity to test their ideas in a laboratory, few have the capacity to truly take these ideas to the mass market.

This new platform aims to provide just the capacity these manufacturers need, allowing production to go from niche to mass production. “With around 10m3​ fermentation tank and multiple downstream equipment, this platform will speed up the scale up and validation of a laboratory or small pilot formula with ad hoc process parameters,” a Danone spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “The platform is open to any companies that are working on that field.”

What is precision fermentation?

Precision fermentation is a form of fermentation that uses microorganisms as production factories in order to produce specific ingredients. As a method, it has been used for a wide range of foods and ingredients, from plant-based dairy​ to vegan food colouring​ to lactoferrin​, which is often found in breast milk.

According to Michelin, the platform provides technology by which small scale manufacturers without their own can develop their ideas at a larger scale. “There is a real need worldwide for facilities where small companies can scale up without needing to build their own plant,” its spokesperson told us.

“The project we are building aims to develop breakthrough technologies on a pre-industrial scale . . . Each stage is sometimes referred to as the ‘valley of the death of innovation’, because only few capacities of this type are accessible, and investing directly in this type of tool represents a prohibitive cost for many innovating companies.”

How will the key players contribute?

They key players each bring something different to the development of the centre. Danone has over a century of experience in the food sector, for instance, which includes significant knowledge of fermentation.

“Danone has leveraged fermentation technologies over the past 100 years to deliver the best product experience to consumers and innovate,” Danone’s spokesperson told us.

DMC Technologies, founded in 2014, specialises in biotechnology and will utilise its knowledge of precision fermentation to improve the platform. “DMC brings specialised fermentation knowledge to the partnership,” DMC CEO Kenny Erdoes told FoodNavigator.

“DMC’s metabolic engineering technology simplifies biology to make fermentation more predictable, robust and scalable.  We want to have as much impact as possible on reducing carbon emissions, improving security of supply for essential nutrition products and onshoring production processes in Europe and the US.”

Investments in fermentation

Earlier this year, the UK government invested £12mn​ into the Microbial Food Hub, an Imperial College London-based fermentation research hub. The research includes biobased fermentation and precision fermentation.

Investment from large private sector players such as Cargill​ is also reaching precision fermentation.

Michelin, on the other hand, does not work in the food sector, but is a large tyre manufacturer. It will bring its significant knowledge in engineering to the table.  “Michelin has a strong know-how in engineering, with a proven track record in demo scale prototypes in the chemical field and industrial units' design,” a Michelin spokesperson told FoodNavigator. 

What are the challenges in scaling up precision fermentation?

Upscaling precision fermentation isn’t easy. Lack of capital, as well as inconsistent performance at different scales, can provide barriers to full upscaling.

In biotechnology as a whole, DMC’s Erdoes told us, insufficient capital can provide difficulties to the manufacturer. “In biotechnology in general, the challenge is to get access to fermentation plants or access to capital to build your own plant. This process takes time which means that we are not able to mainstream the immense benefits of biotechnology as quickly as we need to.”

A problem specific to fermentation, however, is differing performances at different scales. “Fermentation companies struggle with scaling up bioprocesses from their laboratory to pilot and commercial scale due to inconsistent performance at different scales.”

The problem isn’t just about the size of the equipment, in Danone’s view, but a lack of sufficient ingredient amounts as well. “From [a] manufacturer standpoint, [the] main challenges in this field are linked to [the] ingredient quantity needed to reach a proper proof of concept to validate its functionality and how we get confidence in the scale up of the ingredient,” its spokesperson told us.

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