Screening the Application Potential of a Yeast-Based Biosurfactant Portfolio

Surfactants are performance molecules that intervene in nearly every product and aspect of human daily life with a global turnover of $31 billion in 2016. Despite the efforts to move towards a bio-based economy, only 4% of the surfactant market is 100% bio-based (e.g. APGs and MESs). An even smaller part (<0.1 %) of the market is not only 100% bio-based, but also produced through biological processes, such as microbial, plant-based and/or enzymatic processes. Although a lot of companies are striving towards such sustainable solutions, current limitations blocking valorisation of such technologies are the higher production costs as well as the limited structural variability and subsequent lack of physicochemical (and biological) properties.

The AppliSurf project will apply a combination of genetic modification, fermentation development/optimization and green chemistry to enable commercial production of an innovative and broad portfolio of biosurfactant structures at an acceptable cost. The unique properties of these ‘new-to-market’ biosurfactants will be identified by high throughput screening for industrially relevant properties (foaming, emulsification, wetting, gelling, antimicrobial properties, etc.). Subsequent structure-function modeling of this family of compounds will enable the prediction of the properties of compounds not included in the screen. The latter will maximize the output of the project, also after the projects’ end. Scale-up of the optimized production processes will generate samples for in-house evaluation by the members of the industrial user group.

AppliSurf Industry User Group
The project partners are looking for companies that wish to be involved in the user group of this VIS project. The user group is open to all interested companies, even outside Flanders. Interested companies can contact Catalisti at for more information.

Project Details
Project type: VIS
Approved on: 13/12/2017
Duration: 31/08/2018 – 31/08/2020
Total budget: €624.827
Subsidy: €499.853
Project Partners


Bio-Aromatics Feedstock and Technology Assessment

Due to lignin’s wide availability, its aromatic structure, as well as the variety of potential modifications offered by its chemical structure, many studies have shown that the real commercial opportunity offered by lignin lies in its valorization as a renewable feedstock of aromatics for the chemical industry. This renewed interest in lignin has stimulated research for the development of an economically viable lignin conversion route into high-added value bio-aromatics as phenol and phenol derivatives.

The intrinsic properties of lignin, the variability of the resource, heterogeneous and polydisperse molar masses and hype-branched structures have, until now, hindered technological and commercial developments. While technology for isolating lignin from biomass is no longer the main obstacle for effective valorization, extensive research is currently being undertaken globally to propose innovative concepts of biorefinery based on disruptive processing/purification technologies.

The BAFTA project seeks to initiate the first steps in closing the virtual “valley of death” between research and industrial scale, thereby focusing on the general aim of the transition towards a biobased chemical industry in Flanders using lignocellulosic feedstock. The target group of companies that will benefit from this project are found throughout the value chain of bio-aromatics (from paper, wood, and waste treatment companies as a primary/secondary source for feedstock, over producers of polymers or fine-chemicals based on phenolic compounds, to formulators in the area of adhesives, UV-stabilizers, dyes, inks, coatings).

The main goals of this project are fivefold. First, a technology mapping for the conversion of lignin and wood biomass into useful chemical building blocks will be done. Secondly, a feedstock overview will be worked out both quantitative and qualitative for three different types, being virgin wood, waste wood and lignin. Another goal is creating a clear overview of the IP landscape and freedom-to-operate for conversion technologies of lignin and wood biomass. This will lead to the selection of 2 most promising technologies per feedstock (lignin and wood) based on a decision support framework. A detailed analysis of the two selected technologies per feedstock and recommendations for future research and follow-up projects will be provided. The last goals is the sampling of 4 different technologies at kg-scale and characterization of obtained samples on both stability and reproducibility.

Press Publications
Lignin as feedstock for bioaromatics – NPT Magazine – 7 July 2020

Whitepaper Bio-aromatics
Towards a Sustainable Value Chain of Lignin-Based Bio-Aromatics in Flanders – 30 June 2022


Interested about the results and deliverables coming out of this project? Please contact catalyst Aron Deneyer (


Project Details

Project type: VIS
Approved on: 05/12/2017
Duration: 01/01/2018 – 31/05/2019
Total budget: €199.945
Subsidy: €159.956

Project Partners


Sugar-Based Chemicals and Polymers through Innovative Chemocatalysis and Engineered Yeast

Cancellation of the EU sugar quota as of October 1th 2017 will have important consequences for European sugar producers, not at least in terms of the evolution of sugar prices towards prices on the global market. Together with the disappearance of export limitations, this will lead to new opportunities for sugar as feedstock for production of chemicals and materials. Market analysts also expect an increase of EU sucrose and glucose syrup production.

The SPICY project aims to provide the chemical industry with new or optimized processes to convert sugars into added value compounds, i.e. both drop-ins and novel biobased chemicals (see figure below). Two complementary lines are hereto developed in parallel, one focusing on biotechnology based on improved yeast-strains and one based on chemocatalytic routes. Both will aspire to meet industrial standards of productivity, titer, yield and selectivity, to safeguard potential economic benefit and future industrial valorisation. Most of the targeted platform chemicals are (potential) monomers for biobased plastics, hence, a second aim of SPICY is to deliver proof-of-concept of their usefulness by targeting novel and functional polymeric materials, typically not found in the current oil-based value chain.

The project has the ambition to strengthen the position of Flanders in terms of research into biobased processes and materials. The relevance of this project is further emphasized by an industrial advisory board eager to implement the results and create economic valorisation. Current members of the advisory board include: 3M, Allnex, Beaulieu, Cargill, Eastman, EOC, Galactic, GF Biochemicals, GlobalYeast, INEOS Styrolution, Proviron, Solvay, Tereos and Tiense Suiker.

Project Details
Project type: cSBO
Approved on: 14/12/2017
Duration: 01/02/2018 – 30/07/2022
Total budget: €2.526.011
Subsidy: €2.526.011
Project Partners

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Aron Deneyer (


Innovative Production and Use of Sugar Esters

Sugar (fatty acid) esters are esters obtained by reacting a sugar with an (fatty) acid. Sugar esters are non-ionic surfactants which generally have very good emulsifying, stabilising or conditioning effects. Moreover, they are readily biodegradable, non-toxic, non-skin irritant, odorless, tasteless and give normal food products after digestion. For these reasons, they are used in many different applications and products, such as pharmaceuticals, detergents, cosmetics, and in the agri-food industry. There are roughly two methods to synthesize sugar esters. On the one hand, sugar esters can be obtained by chemical esterification, generally at high(er) temperatures in the presence of an alkaline catalyst. On the other hand, sugar esters can also be produced enzymatically at more moderate conditions in an organic solvent using lipases or proteases (and subtilisin).

The SweetEst project seeks to 1) identify which chemical identities (sugar composition, fatty acid chain length and degree of saturation, hydrophobicity, degree of esterification, etc.) give the desired and most performant biological functionality/activity, 2) investigate how to produce (and purify) the most relevant sugar esters efficiently and uniquely, 3) formulate and emulsify them for the desired end applications, and 4) test the biological activity of most relevant sugar esters ‘in vitro’ and ‘in vivo’. In first instance, lab-scale production will be pursued, after which (in second instance) production on kg-scale can be pursued if lab-scale production turns out to be technically (and economically) feasible. In the first two years of the project, lab-scale production and ‘in vitro’ testing of relevant sugar esters is targeted.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 13/12/2017
Duration: 01/03/2018 – 28/02/2021
Total budget: €1.267.196
Subsidy: €1.039.558
Project Partners

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Luc Van Ginneken (


Focus: Advanced Tailored Oligosaccharides

The ATOL project focuses on the production and use of tailored oligosaccharides. Depending on their structure, oligosaccharides are known for their interesting bio-active properties such as prebiotic activity, anti-oxidant, anti-hypertensive, anticoagulant agent, plant elicitors etc.

Targeted Users

Because of these properties, they are immensely interesting to a great number of industries: the food industry (stabilizer, thickener), pharmaceuticals (absorbing & gelling agent, excipient), medical devices, the personal care industry (creams, lotions), the cardboard and paper industries. In addition, oligosaccharides can be grafted onto surfaces or used as tunable polar structure in biological, biodegradable and/or biocompatible dispersants.


The main objective of ATOL is to generate the knowledge base which will lead to the development of new pectin-derived functional ingredients. They can be used as building blocks for ingredients with techno-(bio)functional properties, which will improve human and animal health. Two specific objectives are: to gain insight in process-structure-function relations and to develop economically viable prototype processes and products. More specifically, the project focuses on developing such applications as feed additives and dispersants.

Action on Global Goals and SDGs

The project contributes to more healthy human food and animal feed. It contributes for instance to lowering dependency on antibiotics and to lower anti-microbial resistance by using healthier ingredients and units for ingredients which are of a natural, biobased origin.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 10/09/2017
Duration: 01/07/2018 – 30/06/2021
Total budget: €1.153.988
Subsidy: €947.717
Project Partners

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Martijn Mertens (

EnzymASE 1

Enzymes for Added Sustainability and Efficiency

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 27/10/2016
Duration: 01/01/2017 – 29/06/2019
Total budget: €1.584.731
Subsidy: €1.318.461
Project Partners

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Luc Van Ginneken (


Up-scaling of Innovative Technologies for the Production of Renewable Aromatics

The Interreg project BioHArT particularly focuses on realising the scaling up of bio-aromatics production over the entire value chain: from raw material suppliers over converters to end-users. Bio-aromatics must be produced in sufficient quantities to go through the first steps of application development trajectories and making it more attractive for companies to invest. The quality of the technology developments will increase resulting in a flywheel effect in terms of developing the network needed to form values chains. The uniqueness of BioHArT is that it concerns a cooperation extending national borders. The process installations will be setup on four different complementary locations in the border region between Belgium and the Netherlands.

Project Details
Project type: Interreg
Duration: 06/03/2016 – 05/03/2019
Project Partners

Biovertol 2

Towards Sustainable Synthesis of Branched-Chain Higher Alcohols from Biobased Feedstock

Biovertol 2 is a follow-up project that builds upon a previous Catalisti project, Biovertol 1. Biovertol 1 aimed to develop renewable routes towards short-chain, middle-range and long-chain Guerbet-alcohols. These branched bio alcohols are interesting platform chemicals with compelling physicochemical properties from which a viable and renewable chemistry tree can be built. The project showed that a novel Guerbet process can be developed and that numerous applications comprising biobranched alcohols prove to hold exceptional properties. Biovertol 2 seeks to build upon these successes.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 18/11/2015
Duration: 31/12/2015 – 31/03/2018
Total budget: €1.114.453
Subsidy: €753.777
Project Partners


Refining of Wood to Aromatics

While the conversion of cellulose and hemicellulose to fuels and chemicals has already been extensively studied, the conversion technology for lignine valorsization is developed significantly less. This evolution is mainly due to the structural complexity and heterogeneity of this aromatic biopolymer. Both the pulp and paper industry, as in the growing bio-ethanol production, the lignin residual is currently mainly used as low-value energy source.

Publications and patents concerning lignine conversion are mainly focused on the production of biofuels and oxygen-free hydrocarbons. This pioneering work offers interesting opportunities, but there is a huge competition in those markets from other biomass types and petrochemicals. The discovery of shale gas and oil complicates the justification to generate fuels from biomass. In addition, biomass has a problem of scale, which makes that future bio-refineries will/can not provide mega ton production of chemicals, so that a clear choice must be made for the production of a handful of (valuable) chemicals in stead of a very wide range of products. For this reason, building blocks for polymers are to be preferred.

While already a lot of building blocks are produced from renewable resources, sustainable production of molecules with aromatic structure is still very challenging. The ARBOREF project intends to propose a bio-refinery for aromatics, describing chemical routes for the production of some essential aromatics from renewable raw materials such as wood and grasses.

Central to the project is a recently developed KU Leuven technology, which converts wood into high yields of mono-phenols (from lignin), and a fixed (hemi) cellulose pulp (1). Useful aromatics will be produced from both fractions in this project. On the one hand, the phenols are reduced to building blocks that can be used in the polyurethane, polyester, polyamide, polycarbonate and phenolresin industry. On the other hand, the sugar pulp is also used for the production of aromatics such as benzene, styrene, and terephthalic acid. The ultimate ambition is to set up a biorefinery, which produces aromatics from timber with 90% carbon efficiency.

This multidisciplinary project will work on the following issues and challenges:
  • What is the ideal raw material (plant species) for bio-aromatics synthesis? Understanding the structure of the plant components and their relative proportions in the cell wall in relation to the convertibility of the plant species is very important.
  • How can we best address the separation of different chemicals that result from the conversion technology?
  • How convertible is the sugar pulp fraction in yeast fermentation processes and chemical catalysis and thermal processes to aromatic building blocks for the chemical industry?
  • What are the most interesting synthetic routes from the lignin fraction, which allow both synthesis of existing chemicals such as phenol, but also new chemicals for polymer and fine chemical applications?
(1) Van den Bosch et al. Reductive lignocellulose fractionation into soluble lignin-derived phenolic mono- and dimers and processable carbohydrate pulp Energy Environ. Sci., 2015, DOI: 10.1039/C5EE00204D

Project Details
Project type: SBO
Approved on: 18/12/2014
Duration: 01/04/2015 – 31/03/2019
Total budget: €2.999.555
Subsidy: €2.999.555
Project Partners

Carboleum 2

Catalytic Conversion of Carbohydrate Sidestreams to Develop New, Innovative Chemical Applications

Carboleum 2 is a follow-up project that builds upon a previous Catalisti project, Carboleum 1. Carboleum 1 aimed to develop a new economic value chain in Flanders based on the catalytic conversion of carbohydrate sidestreams, in particular cellulosic streams, into new organic alkylamine-based intermediates and thereby support the development of new and improved chemical applications. Whereas Carboleum 1 focussed on the catalytic conversion of less complex feedstock, such as glucose, maltose and starch into aminated intermediates, Carboleum 2 progresses towards the purification and conversion of more complex cellulosic streams.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 18/03/2015
Duration: 31/03/2015 – 29/06/2017
Total budget: €1.556.190
Subsidy: €1.086.280
Project Partners