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Wacker adding cysteine capacity through Spanish acquisition

Dan Stanton

By Dan Stanton+

21-Dec-2016
Last updated on 21-Dec-2016 at 15:34 GMT2016-12-21T15:34:52Z

Wacker's fermentation process involves e. coli bacteria.*istock/Eraxion )
Wacker's fermentation process involves e. coli bacteria.*istock/Eraxion )

Wacker says it is buying a large-scale fermentation facility in Spain to support growing demand for the amino acid cysteine.

The deal will see Wacker Biosolutions add 800m3 of fermentation capacity for production of cysteine - a natural amino acid used in the pharmaceutical industry, among others – by buying the site in León, Spain from local pharma firm Antibióticos de León SLU.

“The acquisition is an important step for Wacker to securely meet our customers’ growing demand for cysteine,” spokeswoman Nadine Baumgartl told this publication.

Cysteine is used in a number of pharmaceutical functions, for example as an expectorant in cough medicines, but Baumgartl was unable to divulge how much of its capacity is used for pharma products.

She did, however, say Wacker intends to invest around €30m ($31m) to modernise the facility and add some extra production equipment over the next few years. This will create around 35 new jobs.

Cysteine Fermentation

While not alone in making cysteine by fermentation, Baumgartl told us Wacker was the first to do so using its patented bioprocess.

“Traditionally, cysteine is extracted from human hair, pig bristles and feathers. However, this manufacturing process, which involves hydrolysis with hydrochloric acid, fractional crystallization and electrolysis, is inefficient and not particularly environmentally friendly,” she said.

Instead, Wacker uses a fermentative production method for cysteine from plant-based raw materials that utilises E. coli bacteria which she said made production extremely efficient.

“This method is extremely efficient and environmentally compatible. 90% of the bacterial cysteine ends up in the final product, compared with the 60% yield of conventional methods.

“Another advantage is that only one kilogram of hydrochloric acid is needed per kilogram of cysteine, whereas traditional processes using animal or human raw materials require 27 kg of hydrochloric acid. This represents a saving of 96%.”

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