Simple Cellulose: Renmatix expands hydrolysis technologies

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01 Oct 2018 --- The industry demand for competitive alternatives to petrol-derived molecules is gaining traction, despite recent market pressures, according to Renmatix, a leader in affordable cellulosic sugars. To serve this growing consumer need, Renmatix is intersecting with its hydrolysis technology and ingredient called Simple Cellulose. The company's most recent funding in 2016, was a US$14 million investment, led by Bill Gates.

In the interest of expanding their supply, Renmatix’x Plantrose Process provides an enabling technology for profitable biorefineries. This investment in commercializing Plantrose will help drive towards the first wave of Renmatix licensees building Plantrose-enabled biorefineries in diverse global markets like Canada, India, Malaysia and the US. 

Renmatix is enabling feedstock for petroleum alternatives used in the global biochemical and biofuels markets. The company is challenging conventional sugar economics by cheaply converting cellulosic biomass – from wood waste to agricultural residue – into useful, cost-effective Plantro sugars and additional bio building blocks. Plantrose supercritical hydrolysis technology is claimed to deconstruct non-food biomass an order of magnitude faster than other processes and enhances its cost advantage by using no significant consumables, according to the company. The product has a globular shape and is made only from plants and water. It provides emulsification, optimizes fat absorption and preserves moisture. 

According to Bill Gates: “To effectively address climate change, we need to develop an energy infrastructure that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas and is cost competitive. A critical component in this effort must be to decarbonize the industrial sector. Another is the possibility of cost-competitive biofuels. Renmatix provides an innovative process that is an exciting pathway to pursue.”

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Simple Cellulose: The early applications are in
specialty and allergen-free baking, according to Renmatix

The patented Plantrose Process uses supercritical water to reduce costs in the conversion of biomass to cellulosic sugars, the critical intermediary for second-generation biochemicals and biofuels. With faster reactions and virtually no associated consumable-expenses, Renmatix’s supercritical hydrolysis economically enables a multitude of renewable process technologies to access the market for “high volume, low cost and broadly sourced” cellulosic sugars that are compounding today. From this secure foundation in industrial sugars, the company is expanding its product portfolio by valorizing additional bio building block intermediates, including Omno polymers and crystalline cellulose.

Since 2007, Renmatix has been at the forefront of sustainable bio-supply chains. While previous Plantrose applications have focused on fuels and chemicals, Renmatix achieved a breakthrough discovery in 2017 that positioned the Plantrose co-products – such as Simple Cellulose (SC) – for a new set of value streams and markets within the food, beauty, and industrial sectors.

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Jeremy Austin, Renmatix Vice President for Business Development, says: “We made a significant R&D push and did a soft launch of Simple Cellulose in July at the IFT Expo in Chicago. The underlying technology took around ten years and figuring out how to apply it to high-value applications has been a continual effort since 2016.”

“Hydrolysis technologies have been around for a while, but companies like us have dramatically improved upon the original processes in the last decade or so. We use a proprietary process that only relies on water, pressure and temperature to extract the valuable constituents in plant matter, primarily the cellulose that resides in plants. Our version of cellulose has a unique particle size and shape after processing under supercritical conditions, which has been the impetus of our application development and differentiation among other players,” he explains.  

“Our main challenge has been that Simple Cellulose isn’t always a 1:1 drop-in replacement. We’ve found that users tend to use less simple cellulose (hence we’ve created simple instructions) and that it may take an iteration or two. But it’s certainly not an insurmountable obstacle, and we get to tap into the creativity of users to craft interesting recipes.”

The early applications for Simple Cellulose are in specialty and allergen-free (gluten and dairy free) baking, according to Austin. “Simple Cellulose has powerful multi-functionality,” he continues. “It acts as an emulsifier (making sure things like oil and water get along in a recipe), a thickener (for mouthfeel and texture), and a humectant which improves the ability to retain moisture during cooking. All these functions are built into this one food ingredient and are very important in baked goods.”

Simple Cellulose can also replace eggs, dairy, gluten, soy-derived products and fats in food, which is important for consumers with allergies, as well as anyone in search of healthier choices and ingredients. By replacing multiple ingredients in a recipe and being labeled “Simple Cellulose” it gives consumers a cleaner label. Through this hydrolysis technology, Renmatix plans to expand Simple Cellulose further to sauces, meat systems and other baked foods.

“In addition, Simple Cellulose has been shown to replace a range of ingredients, from eggs to high-end gums that are very common for emulsifying or texturizing. Quite often, the amount of Simple Cellulose needed to transition a recipe is quite low, which offers the users a cost advantage as compared to these more expensive options. So not only is it important on the allergen-free eating side, but it also brings cost advantages to food producers, especially in our early target sector of baked goods,” Austin explains. 

“We are working with major food companies to test broader food applications for Simple Cellulose beyond baking. Applications are possible in condiments and sauces, and early trials with meat products have proven promising. And we have other products that we’ve developed out of our Plantrose Process for the beauty and industrial segments,” he notes. “Earlier this year, we announced a joint development agreement with global paints and coatings company, AkzoNobel.” 

Austin believes that Simple Cellulose addresses significant trends: “Firstly, food manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve margins or reduce costs – Simple Cellulose helps them do that by replacing ingredients that are expensive and subject to price volatility.” 

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Simple Cellulose can replace eggs, dairy, gluten,
soy-derived products and fats in food

“Secondly, Simple Cellulose addresses the increasing consumer preference for more sustainable, more ethical, and healthier food options by providing a plant-based alternative to animal and petroleum-based products and to common food allergens like wheat.”

“Fundamentally, the same principles that have made us successful in baked goods can translate into other food categories. Emulsification, texturizing, and water retention are on center stage for products like sauces, soups, meats (traditional and meat analogs) and dairy,” Austin notes. 

“We are conducting kitchen trials now with a leader in food development, Mattson, to develop additional food-related product prototypes in these areas,” he adds. “So far, it has not worked well on protein beverages, meringue, chocolate and some confections. Other products work more efficiently, which is why we offer a multi-functionality.”   

According to Austin: “No one else in the market makes a product using only plant material and supercritical water. Ours is one of the cleanest processes around, with none of the harsh acids or alkali that are often used to break down plant matter.” 

“Although Simple Cellulose is cellulose, it’s not a version that the industry is accustomed to using. It offers a unique level of versatility: it is quite uncommon to find one ingredient that can potentially replace 1, 2 or 3 components of a recipe. That has enabled Simple Cellulose to function across multiple food categories in basic and industrial settings,” he concludes.  

By Elizabeth Green

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