Suzhou Hydal Biotech, an EU-China joint venture that has developed the first and only industrial technology for production of PHA biopolymers that uses waste cooking oil, is the recipient of this year's Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award. Each year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award to a company that has demonstrated uniqueness in developing and leveraging new technologies that significantly affect both the functionality and customer value of new products and applications. Based on recent analysis, Frost & Sullivan has recognized the innovative Hydal technology as a winning solution to the two biggest concerns of the waste oil upcycling industry: feedstock suitability and supply.
Developed by Czech company Nafigate (Prague) and patented at the Brno University of Technology, Hydal is the first biotechnology in the world to produce a polymer from waste feedstock on an industrial scale, without using food resources such as sugar, starch or corn. Suzhou Hydal Biotech was founded in February 2014 in Suzhou as a joint venture between Nafigate Corp. and Jiangsu Clean Environmental Technology, in order to bring Hydal technology to the Chinese market.
"In China, the huge surplus of used frying oil has resulted in a black market that recycles the oil for cooking, causing major health risks," said Frost & Sullivan Senior Industry Analyst Jennifer Tan. "Suzhou Hydal Biotech will make the most of China's huge waste cooking oil market and resolve accompanying problems with its unique technology."
Hydal technology converts waste cooking oils into polyhydroxyalkanoates (from which the name "Hydal" was derived). Waste cooking oils, to which inorganic salts are added as nutrients, are fermented by naturally occurring microorganisms in the presence of water and air. In the fermentation broth, the microbes produce PHA granules to store carbon and energy. The granules are harvested by isolating and disrupting the microorganisms and then extracting and precipitating the polymer using a solvent, which is recovered and removed.
The quality of the waste cooking oil used was found not to affect the quality of the PHA. Hence, because Hydal biotechnology is able to use any cooking oil, feedstock suitability does not pose a problem. Moreover, microorganisms have been known to be tolerant toward toxic elements; as such, the possibility of waste oil contamination and consequent disruption is remote. As Hydal is able to use any cooking oil, feedstock suitability and sustainability are non-issues.
Nor does feedstock supply present a problem. The cooking oil collection infrastructure in Europe and many countries of the world is a potential avenue for technology licensing. "Unlike with waste oil re-refining, Hydal's flexible technology makes it unnecessary to decontaminate and screen the waste cooking oils," noted Tan. "Producing PHAs instead of conventional biofuel also widens its range of usefulness because the PHAs can be used for a multitude of applications."
The technology neatly solves the problem of a potential oversupply of biobased waste oils in the industry due to their unsuitability for re-refining into motor oils. To date, most of the upcycled waste oils are turned into either high-quality base oils or into biofuel. Hydal technology, which turns waste cooking oil into a biodegradable polymer, now offers an alternative end product.
Aside from the sustainability aspects, by virtue of being fermentation-based, the Hydal solution is modular and can be easily scaled to required capacity. And next to solving the challenge of waste oils disposal, the PHA produced is almost carbon-neutral due to "free" energy gains from kitchen waste processing.