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Novel assays and optimised production techniques speed product commercialisation

CASE STUDY: Efficiency Technologies and The Open University

How Efficiency Technologies collaborated with The Open University to improve the analysis involved in the extraction and deployment processes of premium quality flavours for use in the UK food and drink sector

Efficiency Technologies brings research and early-stage technology to market or application where it can be used to save energy, improve operational efficiency in industrial processes, provide environmental benefits through alternative energy or cleanup technology, aid in the provision of healthcare services, or simply where it is genuinely innovative.

The company works with researchers and scientists to create products that can be used in industry, utilities, and commercial environments and by domestic consumers.

Detailed analysis of flavonoid extraction process

To improve the analysis involved in the extraction and deployment processes of premium quality flavours for use in the UK food and drink sector, Efficiency Technologies signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme to collaborate with The Open University (OU).

The project focused on Efficiency Technologies’ flavonoid extraction process – flavonoids are the family of compounds, obtained from plants, that provide our food and drink with their unique flavour and smell.

Working with OU scientist, Dr Geraint Morgan and his Applied Science & Technology Group (ASTG), the SPRINT project has enabled Efficiency Technologies to develop a new low-level analytical method of profiling, which is designed to be used in the production process phase, to monitor the correct levels of critical compounds. This ensures that natural variability can be controlled and adapted to provide the highest premium product quality.

Dr Morgan was part of the team that developed Ptolemy, a miniature gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) for the Rosetta space mission, that landed on a comet in November 2014, after a ten-year, four billion mile journey around the Solar System. Ptolemy provided the analytical evidence that the ‘building blocks of life’ are present on a comet. Morgan and his research group are part of the Space Strategic Research Area (Space SRA) at The Open University and have led the agenda in translating the know-how from developing space instrumentation to providing solutions to a range of challenges back here on Earth.

Flavonoid profiling at low levels is complex and can be time consuming. Existing analytical methods fail to detect the very low levels of key flavour molecules which are critical to the natural complexity and taste. The SPRINT project focused on how the use of novel analytical assays can enable the optimisation of novel extraction techniques, that can change the flavour profile and, in turn, how it can have a major impact on the value of the recovered materials and the time taken to generate the product.

Achievements through SPRINT and Open University support

Benefits achieved through the SPRINT project included:

  • Optimised analytical assays and production processes that can be delivered as a service to the craft beer and distilled spirit sector
  • The same processes can be applied by Efficiency Technologies for the development of a range of new products
  • Delivered a novel, premium product ready for the retail market
  • A Heads of Terms agreement has been established with a UK flavouring company to undertake commercial exploitation
  • One potential customer has produced pilot testing samples for buyers at two leading supermarkets
  • Subject to adoption of solution, there are pilot orders of 5,000-10,000 bottles with commercial volumes rising to 100,000 bottles for commercial output
  • There is scope for sales of up to 500,000 bottles per year, subject to commercial output
  • One individual was trained as part of the project and has stayed on the team – permanent, part-time employee of Efficiency Technologies
  • One individual has joined the team at the OU for this project and has stayed
  • Project has been “an absolute success” and “allowed the company to commercialise at a speed that would not have been possible otherwise”

Accelerating commercialisation process for new opportunities

Phil Metcalfe, Founder/Director of Efficiency Technologies said: “Having completed an Innovate UK project, we worked with The Open University on the SPRINT programme to overcome a lack of superior quality analytical tools in our work of extracting high value chemicals from materials. The cost of undertaking this work internally or in a commercial environment is prohibitive so SPRINT-funded access to expertise from The Open University has provided us with a commercial advantage in deploying the natural compounds extracted in the UK food and drink sector.

“It’s a novel technological process and uses minimal tools to enable analysis and validation, however nature is complex and needed precision accuracy. Working with The Open University team on GC-MS and GCxGC-MS (Comprehensive Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) to segregate complex flavour profiles has demonstrated that the basic premise of the technology works in real commercial applications.

“The SPRINT project has enabled Efficiency Technologies to take a product that needed validation and deliver a product ready for full industrialisation. We’re also testing a new product – one that currently does not exist in the marketplace and will produce a new category in the beverage industry – with just a minor variation of the same process, based on The Open University characterisation.

“We’ve been able to commercialise at a speed that wouldn’t have been possible without the assurance that we can control the quality and this has led on to significant commercial opportunities for the company.”