Do you know that a bacterium capable of producing lactic acid directly from starch in less than 24 hours was discovered in the Philippines?
Around a decade ago, researchers from the University of the Philippines Mindanao led by Dr. Dulce M. Flores discovered and identified a bacterium isolated from the popular puto or native rice cake.
This bacterium is very unique because it was found to be capable of completely converting starch directly into lactic acid at room temperature in less than 24 hours.
Further studies were then initiated to develop and optimize the technology of lactic acid fermentation. Results revealed that this technology is feasible and cost-efficient for industrial applications.
After years of comprehensive research, the indigenously developed lactic acid technology is now ready for commercial adaptation and exploitation. This opens up greater economic opportunities for the Philippines.
Lactic acid is a valuable organic chemical with so many economic uses. It is an input in food and beverages, drugs, cosmetics, medical care, polymers, packaging and many others.
Demand for lactic acid is continuously increasing, particularly in the production of bioplastics made of polylactic acid. Lactic acid is a polymer precursor.
The market for bioplastics is expected to grow by 20% annually until 2025. Hence, many multinational companies have put up and are expanding their production of lactic acid to cope with the demand.
Big multinational companied use many different technologies to produce lactic acid. However, their technologies commonly involved two costly stages, compared to the one-stage process developed by Filipino researchers.
In the conventional two-stage process, the first stage is the conversion of the carbohydrate material, usually starch, into simple sugars as glucose and galactose, among others. This usually involved high temperature and the use of enzymes that can add up to the cost of production. Starch is a locally available, cheap and fairly abundant raw material in the Philippines. Sources of starch include cassava, corn, rice, potato and sago.
The second stage is the fermentation process or the conversion of sugars into lactic acid.
However, the technology developed by Filipino researchers involves only a one-stage simultaneous saccharification and fermentation process that converts starch directly to lactic acid at room temperature.
This means savings in time, energy and overall production cost that can be translated into tremendous economic gain when applied in a larger industrial scale.
Recognizing the economic potential from this shortened process, the Department of Science and Technology granted UP Mindanao the needed finds to further develop the technology towards commercialization.
The research grant was divided into phases. The first phase started in 2008 and was basic research and capability building that provided UP Mindanao that needed funds to further develop the technology towards commercialization.
The research grant was divided into phases. The first phase started in 2008 and was for basic research and capability building that provided UP Mindanao the means to study and improve the technology.
The second phase was for applies research that led to the development f a unique process all the way to the semi-pilot testing.
This research on lactic acid research was completed in June 2014.
Now, another grant was given to UP Mindanao, this time for technology utilization or technology transfer.
The lactic acid technology developed in UP Mindanao can put the Philippines as an emerging player in the forefront of industrial biotechnology especially in the lactic acid industry.
The local starch industry can also benefit from this development since starch is the primary raw material.
Many local industries can also benefit in the commercialization of the lactic acid technology since local production can significantly lower their cost of buying lactic acid from other countries.
Before all these could happen, the next challenge is to convince the private sector to invest in commercializing this technology to realize its economic potential.
What is needed to make them interested is communication among the private sector, the government and the researchers to help transform this research technology into commercial reality.
By: Melvin S. Pasaporte University of the Philippines Mindanao Published by: Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)