Partnerships with big, established companies can provide the keys to early success for deeptech start-ups like EnginZyme. They start with broad agreements to leverage each company’s strengths and create solutions that will make economic sense. Of course, to find solutions, you need real-world problems to solve. In Tetra Pak, EnginZyme has found a partner ideally suited to finding ways to use EnginZyme’s technology to make the food industry more efficient.
Tetra Pak is not just a leading maker of packaging; it provides entire production lines to its customers in the food industry, so it is constantly looking to innovate, seeking new concepts, ingredients, and production methods for its customers. The company is also attuned to the issues the food industry is trying to solve.
Let’s start with waste. There are many shocking figures about how much food is wasted for human consumption. The latest Food Waste Index Report from United Nations Environment Programme estimates that in 2019, 931 million metric tons of food waste was generated, or 17 per cent of total global food production. Other estimates put the portion wasted at one-third. We can all agree that it is a problem that requires urgent action. Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 aims to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030. To reach this goal, all stakeholders have to pitch in.
Food is not wasted in nature. When a plant or animal dies in the wild, everything is eventually “used up”. When the ants and other bugs have finished with what’s left of a mammal’s meal, fungi take over, using enzymes to transform and absorb it until everything has been returned to the earth in elemental form. The idea behind EnginZyme is that enzymes can transform the chemical industry, making it far more efficient by following nature’s example.
Today’s chemical industry relies too much on petroleum-based feedstock, shunning bio-based starting material. This is not sustainable. The chemical industry also creates a tremendous amount of waste compared to the amount of finished products, which is not sustainable. It relies on heavy and rare-earth metals for catalysts, which require a lot of energy to work. You guessed it — not sustainable.
EnginZyme’s platform combines enzyme engineering with high-performance immobilisation technology. This combination goes into fixed-bed reactors like the ones the chemical industry is used to, allowing manufacturers to harness the power of enzymes in a way that fits in with the continuous operation required for production at scale.
So let’s get back to the first food-waste problem Tetra Pak and EnginZyme are setting out to solve. Greek yoghurt and cream cheese are two products that were once niche foods. They’re now hugely popular around the world. But the manufacturing process creates a lot of acid whey, a greenish-yellow liquid that is left over after straining yoghurt. Roughly two-thirds of the milk used to make Greek yoghurt ends up as acid whey. Unfortunately much acid whey ends up on farmers’ fields as fertiliser. It cannot be poured down the drain or dumped anywhere, as it can cause algal blooms and fish kills in waterways.
But wait — acid whey is not poison, and it should be able to become more than just fertiliser. It comes from the milk that cows provide for us. It contains valuable nutrients like lactose and proteins. It can and should be up-cycled.
This is what EnginZyme and Tetra Pak are setting out to do. EnginZyme is designing a method to up-cycle acid whey into a product that can be used as a natural health-food ingredient, and Tetra Pak will figure out how to integrate this into its customers’ manufacturing lines in an economical, scalable and 100 per cent safe way.
If all goes well, a costly waste of the dairy industry will become a new revenue stream — and less food will be wasted.