"Biosurfactant and bioemulsifiers are attracting major interest to make consumer products and find numerous applications in various industries including food, cosmetics and antimicrobials."
Pattanathu Rahman is a senior lecturer at Teesside University with 20 years of research experience in novel biotechnological approaches to bioproduct development. As well as this he is the Director and Chairman for a biotech research company called TeeGene which supplies non-toxic and biodegradeable biosurfactants produced by microbial fermentation. Recently it was announced that the team would investigate ways to reduce industrial waste, environmental inefficiency and pollution in India. And in addition, explore the potential of converting waste into useful products. Our reporter Emily O'Dowd spoke to Rahman to discuss his role at TeeGene and the latest projects that they have been working on.
Emily O'Dowd (EOD): Can you tell me a little bit about your role and what a normal day looks like?
Pattanathu Rahman (PR): I am a Senior Lecturer in Process Engineering and Process Biotechnology and Course Leader for MSc Food Sci & Biotechnology at Teesside University and Director of TeeGene Biotech Ltd. TeeGene Biotech has developed innovative ways to extract high-value chemicals from algae, plants and microorganisms. In particular, the company has found ways to develop biosurfactants, which act like soap and help to emulsify different liquids from strains of bacteria.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
PR: As a Director of the company I am responsible for managing the business. We have developed partnerships with Universities, businesses and R&D organisations. I am very pleased when we get any recognition from national or international bodies. Last year, we received Enterprise Project of the year award from Teesside University. It was a great moment when I received the award from our Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Croney.
I am also very happy when I received any external members request for R&D partnerships to develop a sustainable technology based projects.
Most recently, TeeGene was invited to participate in UK/India delegation for environmental and water quality. We have also formed an UK/India partnership team with 20 academic and businesses to tackle waste water issues in both countries and seeking Research Council funding to implement the projects. We are aiming to develop sustainable smart technologies to be easily adopted and maintain by rural communities in both countries.
Last year I was also part of British High Commission delegation to New Zealand to develop Agriculture and Food Technology partnerships. The international visit was sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) which invests in skills and education and the schedule for the week was organised by the British High Commission in Wellington. Following the visit, this year we are organising a collaborative R&D workshop in Nelson (NZ) to create agriculture and plant and food research connections with New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes, leading universities and specialist biotech firms.
EOD: How did you first enter the bio-based industry?
PR: TeeGene was formed and registered in Dec 2014. To date, the company received £10,000 innovation voucher from ICreate in 2014, €30,000 in funding from BBNWE in 2015, which also provides TeeGene with access to facilities in Ghent, Belgium. The company’s consortium also received £5,000 from BBSRC – NIBB- HVPfP Network and £50,000 from CBMNet in 2015 for the development of its microalgae & plant based technology platform.
The main value of TeeGene’s technology is its green sustainable process and the eventual cost advantage following scale up. The biosurfactant scale-up work was very successful at BBEPP pilot plant facilities, and made us confident that we can manufacture biosurfactants at an industrial level. We are now considering the possibility to build our own pilot line.
EOD: What are the projects that you have been working on at the moment?
PR: TeeGene works on three technology platforms. One focused on the production of biosurfactants and bioemulsifiers via bacterial and algal fermentation, and the second one focused on waste water treatment and production of value added products via the use of microalgae and third platform focused on microbes and plants as nanomaterial producers.
The company uses an undisclosed, non-GMO, non-pathogenic strains of bacteria to produce long chain fatty acids, sugar/lipid and protein/lipid molecules. Our secondary technology platform looks at the optimisation of microalgal strains to produce exopolysaccharides & biofuels in a benchtop photobioreactor. These algal strains could be used for salts removal from waste water streams and it is a biobased carbon capturing technology suitable to mitigate global warming issue.
The BBSRC business interaction grant enabled TeeGene Biotech to undertake a project to explore the use of naturally occurring microorganisms and microalgae in the treatment of industrial waste water as well as their potential as a high value chemical ingredient. Microalgae are a promising source of biofuel and high value chemicals and nutraceuticals. Among the various bioactive compounds produced by algae, biosurfactant and bioemulsifiers are attracting major interest to make consumer products and find numerous applications in various industries including food, cosmetics and antimicrobials.
The third platform is based on microbial and plant based nanomaterial production from metallic waste materials mainly platinum group of metals.
EOD: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in the industry?
PR: TeeGene currently operates from its lab scale facility and the company scale up to 150 litres of fermentation capacity using BBEPP facilities in Belgium. TeeGene anticipates an additional scale up to several thousand litres of fermentation capacity by the end of 2018. With this last scale up the product cost of the process will be competitive with conventional biosurfactants, with a selling price of roughly $10 per milligram (cosmetics & healthcare applications), $1/gram (detergents) and $1/kg (industrial waste management applications)
Biosurfactant Manufacturing process and cost
The company’s business strategy is to manufacture and sell its products. TeeGene aims to send sample of its biosurfactants to companies within its value chain with the goal to eventually license out its technology.
EOD: How do you think we can raise more awareness about bio-based products?
PR: We target the replacement of traditional synthetic surfactants and emulsifiers in cosmetics, soap formulations, healthcare, paints, household detergents, industrial and institutional cleaning, personal care, crop protection, oilfield, paints and coatings, textile, construction, food, leather, mine and mineral processing, pulp and paper and food processing industries.
TeeGene’s biosurfactants that are manufactured in the lab are fully biodegradable with minimal impact on the environment. They have anti-microbial, and anti-aging properties that are suitable for cosmetic products and biotherapeutic agents.
The biobased economy provides many opportunities for Europe, with biobased feedstock, rather than imported fossil resources used to produce materials, chemicals and energy, creating a new knowledge and technology intensive economy with high employment potential and with reduced environmental impact. TeeGene Biotech carried out tech transfer work at the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant using its bioprocess platform based on carbohydrates and it also received funding to validate its technologies at the Belgian plant and scale them up to an industrial level.
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