Innovation Hub: Interview with Thibaut Derycke, BBEPP

23 Oct 2019

Hi Thibaut! Please tell us a little about BBEPP.

The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant is a flexible and diversified pilot plant for the development and scale-up of new, bio-based and sustainable processes. We are capable to assist in the development of new bioprocesses, optimization of existing processes and scale-up of a broad variety of bio-based processes up to an industrial level (from 5L to 50m3 scale, depending on the process). One of our major strengths is that we can perform the entire value chain, from the green resources up to the final product. By doing so, we intend to close the gap in the innovation chain of the bio-based economy, bridging the economic valley of death between lab research and industrial production lines. We have three core activities: Development of bio-based and sustainable processes; Scale up; Pilot and Demo production to allow market introduction.

Our team is continuously expanding, now reaching over 75 employees with extensive experience in fermentation development and scale-up, biocatalysis, green chemistry, and the development of industrial purification techniques.

What is BBEPP’s role in the SIMBA project?

BBEPP operates as the scale-up partner in the SIMBA project. We help designing the scale-up of the fermentative process for cultivating the starter cultures that will form the microbiomes used in field trials. We do this by keeping the end goal in mind, namely that the microbial consortium is to be used to enhance harvest titers of plants/algae/fish farms. In these agricultural applications profit margins are very small, thus costs must be minimized, while resource utilisation must be maximized. Once the fermentation protocols have been developed by the project partners, we will demonstrate the process at 1500 L scale in our facilities, where we work in according to the ISO 9001 and FSSC 22000 HACCP food safety quality standards.

As scale-up partner, we also provide industrial relevant data and knowledge required for the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study.

Why did BBEPP get involved in the project?

The field of microbiomes is relatively unexplored by the agricultural world, and applications are still very limited. However, as research and knowledge about the influence of microbiomes on crop yields is increasing, the industrial interest has been awakened. As a pilot plant, we want to be part of this innovation, and expand our knowledge in the field. By being present at the cutting edge of biotechnological research, we can maintain our position as one of the leading pilot facilities for bioprocessing in the world.

Can you describe some of the key innovations that you think will result from activities within the project?

The SIMBA project focuses on the combined effect that multiple bacterial strains have on agricultural output. As we all know, teamwork can make 1 plus 1 equal 3. The same holds true for the cooperation of several bacteria in soil and water. In the SIMBA project, we want to find bacterium clusters, or microbiomes, which form good teams. These teams then have positive effects on the plants, algae or animals grown in this microbiome environment. The positive effects could be improved plant health, improved production titres, higher resilience against continuation, more resistance against diseases, etc.

In the SIMBA project a microbiome database will be constructed from diverse research areas of soil, marine, animal and food. Collating this information will make it more accessible, facilitating research progress in the field.

Next to that, I hope that one bacterial consortium will be cultivated and successfully applied in field trials. If this is proven to be working technology, it could cast a whole new perspective on the fertilization of cultivation fields. Currently, the effects of the soil microbiome on plant fertility and crop yields is still a relative unknown. If we could demonstrate that the harvest could be increased by optimizing the soil microbiome, this would be a breakthrough in the fight against world hunger.