The benefits of Solaris can be exploited in various ways. This makes Solaris suitable as a feedstock for the bioenergy market. Solaris can be a local source of high protein feed and possibly supply a new kind of plant protein. And a completely different application can be the production of pharmaceutical proteins, using Solaris as a biopharming platform.
Sunchem spent several years developing Solaris as a biofuel crop. Solaris is selected for its high seed yield. The seeds contain about 38% of oil, with a composition comparable to sunflower oil. In Italy the fresh biomass of Solaris is certified as a feedstock for biodigesters. The high yield of Solaris compared to e.g. soy, rape and canola make it a perfect candidate for local sustainable feedstock production.
In the end of 2014 Project Solaris was launched in South Africa as a large-scale demonstration of sustainable biofuels. Solaris oil was converted into biojet by SkyNRG and used for a test flight together with Boeing and South African Airlines in 2016. The production of biofuel with Solaris reached RSB certification (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials), therewith adhering to high sustainable and social standards.
To learn more about Project Solaris please visit: www.projectsolaris.co.za
The production of oil for biofuel can very well go hand in hand with a feed business case, as the press cake left after oil extraction is high in protein. Also the large quantities of biomass can be ensilaged and fed to ruminants.
All Solaris components have an application as feed or feed ingredient. The seed press cake is high in protein and exceptionally rich in arginine, methionine and glutamic acid. A fatty press cake has been tested successfully as a broiler feed at Stellenbosch University. Solaris oil is suitable as a feed ingredient for broilers and piglets. Dried Solaris biomass pellets are registered as a farm feed with the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and are highly suitable as a ruminant feed. Ensilaged biomass is tested as feed for heifers with good preliminary results.
There is an increasing demand for plant protein in the world due to population growth and environmental consciousness leading to increasing number of people having (partially) vegetarian or vegan diets. For this also functional protein ingredients have to be replaced with plant based proteins. Solaris has a relatively high protein content in the biomass. Sunchem has been exploring the possibilities of producing a leaf protein extract for human nutrition or as functional protein ingredient.
The most abundant protein in leaves is the large Rubisco complex. Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCo) is the enzyme responsible for fixing CO2 for the plant to use as carbon source. When extracted from leaves Rubisco has some unique properties. The amino acid composition complies perfectly with the human requirements (WHO standards), which makes it perfect as a nutritional protein. Furthermore, Rubisco rich extracts have been shown to exhibit some important functional properties. The gelling capacity of Rubisco can compete with the industry standard of egg white.
At the moment Sunchem investigates the extraction process and possible product applications. We are looking for partners to develop this further and start the process of bringing Solaris leaf protein extract to the market.
As can be red in the History section on this website Solaris was originally created for the production of medicine. Producing medicine with the aid of plants is called ‘biopharming’ nowadays. Biopharming offers many possibilities to improve development speed and achieve cheaper production of complex biopharmaceuticals. Nevertheless this technique is still in its infancy, with only few companies working on further development. Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana benthamiana are used in the plant production systems under investigation. Solaris, a cultivar of Nicotiana tabacum, could play a role in developing a robust biopharming platform because Solaris contains ultra-low nicotine levels and has a strongly reduced total alkaloid content. Combined with a stronger nature compared to N. benthamiana this could prove an advantage in stability of a large-scale facility and reduced complexity of the product purification process.
Sunchem is currently validating the infiltration efficiency and expression levels of transient proteins. Pharmaceutical companies or research institutions looking to expand their biopharming efforts are welcome to partner and co-develop the required adaptations of the glycosylation pathway for Solaris. We strive for a Solaris based universal biopharming platform capable of producing a wide range of glycoproteins to drive a cost reduction in the pharmaceutical industry.
It has to be noted that naturally this application of Solaris is completely separated from the feed, food and fuel applications, and no GMO varieties containing medicine will be transferred to those production chains.