ECTOINE insights

New sustainable routes to produced cosmetics from greenhouse gases

Beauty comes from the insight” is one of our claims in the Deep Purple project. The link between urban solid waste, deep purple bacteria and beauty? It is a very valuable natural compound, namely ectoine. Ectoine is used in the cosmetic industry and has been proven to repair the skin´s protective barrier.

Cosmetic production (Copyright: RNB Cosmetics)

The production of ectoine out of waste-streams poses an environmentally friendly alternative compared to synthetic-based ones.

How we produce this healing agent ectoine out of waste-streams?

After thermal hydrolysis the suspension is separated into a liquid and a solid fraction. The liquid fraction is then treated with the Purple Phototrophic Bacteria (PPB). The solid fraction is transferred into an anaerobic digester, where biogas is produced.

The biogas is converted into ectoine, by using specific bacteria (i.e. halotolerant methanotrophs) able to synthesize and accumulate ectoine during the aerobic biodegradation of the CH4 present in biogas in high-mass transfer bioreactors.
The ectoine is subsequently extracted in a bio-milking process, desalted by electrodialysis and captured by ion exchange chromatography.

FPLC system (Copyright: Activatec)

The researchers from our partner Activatec are involved in the optimisation of the conditions and techniques to extract and purify ectoine. Activatec uses as the main purification system, an AZURA Bio Lab System Advanced with a resin packed in a column to capture ectoine and separate it from the rest of the fermentation broth.

For the full process see figure 1 – Simplified process flow diagram for CH4-biogas bioconversion into ectoine.

Biogas to ectoine
Figure 1 – Simplified process flow diagram for CH4-biogas bioconversion into ectoine.

Why have we decided to produce ectoine out of waste-streams?

With Deep Purple, high added-value products, like PHA, proteins, bio-H2, and ectoine can be recovered. Thus, reducing the amount of landfilled organic waste by at least 20% compared with the disposal solutions currently implemented for the same type of waste stream.

In a conventional wastewater treatment plant, all the secondary sludge is furtherly digested and converted into methane. In the Deep Purple project ectoine is recovered out of the biogas, which increases the economic balance of waste water treatment.

The production of electricity from biogas will soon turn more expensive than electricity production from solar or wind power, which requires research on innovative uses of biogas. The conversion of biogas into ectoine, a raw material for cosmetic industry with a market value higher than 1000 euros/kg represents a promising route for biogas valorization.

The economic interest around ectoine from waste-streams

The utilization of biogas as raw material for the production of ectoine entailed a 3- to 6- fold decrease production costs when compared to the currently established industrial processes.

Is the production and use of our ectoine safe?

Sometimes confusion unfolds about the safety concerning microbial based products such as ectoine. Let´s get one thing out of the way; there is no ‘genetic engineering’ in creating ectoine. Halotolerant methanotrophs can be found in nature. Genetically engineered microbes require special permits and containment and generally aren´t used in waste management plants.

Our partner RNB, the laboratory specializing in the creation of global cosmetic solutions, incorporates more than 100 quality assurance controls. This way, they assure safe cosmetic products.

There are no concerns about the final purification of ectoine coming from the use of biogas as a carbon source for fermentation. The purification process involves multiple intensive membrane filtration, ionic exchange and precipitation steps that make the contamination of the final ectoine product with bacteria impossible.

What have we achieved so far?

A new methanotrophic bacterial consortium enriched from a Spanish salt lake was enriched within the Deep Purple Project. Approximately, 0.5 biomass per gram of CH4 with 8% of ectoine inside can be produced by this bacterial consortium. In addition, the continuous production of ectoine from biogas and the subsequent bio-milking was validated in a 20 L bioreactor.

Upscale of the methane to ectoine bioconversion process and the construction of a 4 m3 demo bioreactor at Las Dehesas waste treatment plant, by our partner Institute of Sustainable Processes (ISP) of the University of Valladolid (UVa) with an actual biogas treatment capacity of 14.4m3/d and an estimated ectoin production of 2kg per year.

Demo bioreactor at Las Dehesas (Copyright: ISP – Institute of Sustainable Processes, University of Valladolid (UvA))

Further Goals

RNB will produce 2 cosmetic products with ectoine obtained from urban waste streams in the RNB laboratories located in Valencia. The cosmetic product will be produced with a minimum content in ectoine of 0.1g/100 g cosmetic. At least four formulations incorporating ectoine at various percentages will be developed. Cell based toxicity assessment of the derived ectoine products will be carried out using human epidermal keratinocytes and/or human fibroblasts cell cultures.

Researcher at RNB Cosmetics (Copyright: RNB Cosmetics)

For more information check out our publications:

“Influence of operational conditions on the performance of biogas bioconversion into ectoines in pilot bubble column bioreactors”
“Ectoine Production from Biogas in Waste Treatment Facilities: A Techno-Economic and Sensitivity Analysis”
“Elucidating the key environmental parameters during the production of ectoines from biogas by mixed methanotrophic consortia”

Other sources:

  • Bordel S, Pérez R, Rodriguez E, Cantera S, Fernandez-González N, Martínez M.A, Muñoz R (2020). Halotolerance mechanisms of the methanotroph Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum. Biotechnololgy and Bioengineering. 117(11): 3459-3474.
  • Cantera S, Phandanouvong-Lozano V, Pascual C, Garcia-Encina P, Lebrero R, Hay A, Munoz R (2020) A systematic comparison of ectoine production from upgraded biogas using Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum and a mixed haloalkaliphilic consortium. Waste Management. 102: 773-781.
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