The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will become a home for the first “pilot-scale Supercritical CO2 Encapsulation Facility (SCEF)” in South Africa. The department of science and innovation (DSI) has awarded R25.9 million for the establishment of the facility which is set to be operational in 2022.
In a statement the DST said the facility will address the innovation chasm that exists in the industrialisation of supercritical CO2-based encapsulation technologies. It added that this will also enable local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and firms to conduct field trials and assist in investigating the market uptake of their technologies.
The unique advantage of the Supercritical CO2-based encapsulation technology is that it contains sensitive actives used in animal and human health, explained DST. Some of these are probiotics, proteins, and vitamins in an inert environment without exposure to moisture, oxygen and solvents while operating at low temperatures thereby preserving the activity of the materials, said the department. This is crucial in providing a balanced nutrition for human health, livestock, improve feed digestibility, and reduce overall feed requirements, leading to production cost savings.
Principal researcher at the centre for nanostructures and advanced materials of the CSIR, Dr Philip Labuschagne, said this represents a novel and a major technological development in the encapsulation methods.
Said Labushagne: “Currently, the encapsulation methods that are being used commercially are spray-drying or extrusion. However, these processes expose sensitive actives to high temperatures, shear, organic solvents, moisture and oxygen. All these can compromise their stability. Therefore, as an alternative, our team has developed novel encapsulation technologies using the supercritical CO2 process. This is a more efficient process to encapsulate sensitive actives.”
Using this process, the CSIR recently developed and licenced this technology to a local SMME for commercialisation of a range of probiotic containing health supplements. However, a major barrier for full-scale commercialisation is that, there are no pilot-scale supercritical CO2 encapsulation facilities in South Africa to produce products at scale, said the DST.
To address this challenge, the CSIR will now establish a pilot-scale SCEF that will have a production capacity of up to 100kg/product per hour, producing products for a wide range of applications, which includes personal care to nutraceuticals. In addition, said the department, as the end-products will be for use in food (nutraceuticals for human and animal use) and personal care products, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) safety system will be implemented across the facility.
Xolani Makhoba, deputy director for emerging research areas at the department of science and innovation, said the funding awarded to the project is guided by the National Nanotechnology Strategy. He added that the strategy aims to contribute to both economic and social development, as well as promote the development of nanostructured materials using SCE technology.
DST said the establishment of this pilot facility at the CSIR will allow industry access to the CSIR scientists for new product development, as well as technology transfer. Furthermore, it will also allow de-risking of technologies, as it will give the opportunity for industry to evaluate the technology for their actives and market uptake before investing capital for a full-scale commercial facility.