New uses for crops
By Tony Kryzanowski
Radient Technologies CEO, Dennis Taschuk (left), and chief technology officer, Steven Splinter have worked hard to establish a $23 million demonstration plant for their cutting edge, microwave-based, extract production technology in Edmonton. Photo by Tony Kryzanowski.
Everyone has heard of vanilla, but few know that the source of vanilla extract is the orchid plant. Those are the types of lucrative extract doors that a new Alberta company is hoping to open to the province’s growers.
Radient Technologies says its “transformative technology” involves novel uses of microwaves to extract valuable ingredients from such natural materials as crops, fungi, microalgae, bark and leaves.
In addition to spurring interest among Alberta farmers to grow new commercial cash crops for their extract value, there is the opportunity to extract ingredients from existing crops. A good example of extracts derived from a well-known existing crop are antioxidants from flax, which is one product line that Radient Technologies is aggressively pursuing.
“When we first began approaching potential customers, they said, ‘This is great, but we need to see this work at a commercial scale,’” says Denis Taschuk, Radient Technologies president and chief executive officer (CEO).
That dream has now been fulfilled with a $23 million investment into the company and an operating commercial production plant in Edmonton. Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) contributed $1.2 million through its Advanced Materials and Chemicals Program to help make commercial scale up of this groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind process technology a reality.
“One of the important criteria to qualify for the program was the potential to use Alberta-based biomass materials, whether from agriculture or forestry,” says Steve Price, AI Bio CEO and executive director, Bioindustrial Innovation. “Radient Technologies scored high during our review process.”
Extracts are used in a wide variety of products including foods, beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and health supplements. Initially, Radient Technologies will focus its marketing efforts in those areas. Some extracts are sold for as much as $10,000 per kilogram. The company’s production facility and industrial scale extractor can continuously extract valuable commodities from up to 200 kilograms of biomass per hour and is the only one of its kind in the world.
The science of extracting ingredients from plant materials is well-established. Radient’s technology is much faster and more economical than traditional extraction methods using solvents, it’s more environmentally friendly and it’s much more versatile. Steven Splinter, Radient Technologies founder and chief technology officer, says the microwave extraction method being used by the company is the biggest change in extraction process technology for the industry in many years.
Other advantages of Radient Technologies’ method is that it reduces the number of extraction steps from three to two, improves extract yield and significantly reduces the solvent requirement.
The company is developing and marketing its own commercial extracts focusing on higher value products and plans to license its technology for use elsewhere.
Taschuk says that Radient’s presence in the province is extremely important particularly for the agricultural community and for helping to grow the provincial economy because it provides a commercial-scale, world class infrastructure to capture extra value from cash crops.
“One of the economic spinoffs could be collaboration with the Alberta government on specialty biomasses,” he says. “So Alberta growers who want higher value crops now have a way to take the ingredients derived from these crops to market.”
The company is working actively with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry to determine what other high value crops besides traditional varieties can be grown here as they settle on what extracts they will market. “Speaking with Alberta Agriculture, we’re actually quite surprised by what can be grown here,” Taschuk says. Radient Technologies is providing 27 jobs to Alberta scientists, engineers and technicians. That number could jump to as many as 50 within a year. Another economic opportunity for Radient is to license its technology to researchers and other companies for their own ingredient extraction plans.
The microwave extraction technology used by Radient Technologies was invented by Environment Canada scientist, Dr. Jocelyn Paréé. The company purchased the patents and has been working toward ramping up production to a commercial scale. That goal has now been achieved.