First Supercritical CO2 Encapsulation Facility

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been awarded R25.9 million by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to establish South Africa’s first pilot-scale Supercritical CO2 Encapsulation Facility (SCEF), which is set to be operational in 2022.

The facility will address the innovation chasm that exists in the industrialisation of supercritical CO2-based encapsulation technologies, 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 encapsulates sensitive actives used in animal and human health such as 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. This is key in providing a balanced nutrition for human health, livestock, improve feed digestibility, and reduce overall feed requirements, leading to production cost savings.

“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 says Principal Researcher at the Centre for Nanostructures and Advanced Materials of the CSIR, Dr Philip Labuschagne.

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.

In response to this challenge, the CSIR will now establish a pilot-scale Supercritical CO2 Encapsulation Facility (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, 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.

According to Xolani Makhoba, Deputy Director for Emerging Research Areas at DSI, the funding awarded to the project is guided by the National Nanotechnology Strategy, which aims to contribute to both economic and social development, as well as promote the development of nanostructured materials using SCE technology.

The establishment of this pilot facility at the CSIR will allow industry access to CSIR scientists for new product development, as well as technology transfer. Further, 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.