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.
Solaris was originally created to produce plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMPs). This revolutionary plant-based technology, known as molecular farming, has the potential to disrupt traditional vaccine production by offering lower capital and operating costs, increased scalability, and reduced time to market.
Currently, a handful of non-food crops are being researched and used for the expression of clinical-grade proteins. However, the technology remains in its infancy, making the technique suffer from some of the costly hurdles of pharmaceutical production, such as downstream processing (DSP) and cold-chain storage. Sunchem’s Solaris leaps over this barrier, by targeting protein production in its seeds, thanks to its large yield (~20-50 gram of seed/plant) and virtually inexistent nicotine content (<5 µg/kg)†, effectively eliminating the need for DSP and naturally protecting them from degradation. These unique properties demonstrate Solaris* potential in the niche market for edible vaccines as a safe, versatile, inexpensive, and universal production platform.
Although the industry is currently in its growth stage, some plant-produced pharmaceuticals have already entered commercial production, setting an important precedent for the future of the industry. Solaris is currently being validated for the expression of Cyanophycin Globule Polypeptide (CGP) to produce biomaterials and improved nutrition for feed.
Sunchem invites biopharmaceutical/biotechnology firms and research institutions, looking to expand their molecular farming efforts, to partner and co-develop Solaris into fully-fledged commercial platform.
* Solaris for molecular farming (GMO and non-GMO) will remain isolated from the feed, food and fuel applications and no GMO varieties will be transferred to those production chains.
† fresh weight