In 2017, Dr. Sidharth Arora, Fermentech Labs utilizes proprietary microorganisms and an innovative bioreactor that ferments solid state to make industrial enzymes from fruits, agro-based, and wood waste.
India is responsible for the production of 350 million tonnes of agro-waste every year. In addition the thousands of tonnes of waste are generated from factories that produce fruit juice, cotton potato chips, coffee and many other items.
It was in order to get the most value from this waste that Dr. Sidharth Arora in 2017 launched Fermentech Labs, that uses microorganisms with a proprietary design and an innovative Solid State Fermentation (SSF) bioreactor to create industrial enzymes made from forest waste, agro/fruit/forest.
Based at TIDES Business Incubator of IIT-Roorkee. The startup seeks to help create an eco-friendly circular economy by turning agricultural waste into valuable items like top-quality industrial enzymes that will ensure farmers’ economic prosperity.
“Our technology offers a unique solution to take the waste out and also produces special chemicals and enzymes for markets in India is expanding at 12 percent. It also helps address the energy shortages in India as the final waste products are fuel pellets which are high energy value. We’ve been able to obtain a calorific value (CV) of 19.2 MJ/kg using pine needles fermented and the study’s results have appeared within Renewable Energy, a highly well-known peer-reviewed international journal.” Sidharth says.
The founder of the company says that the heterogeneous nature of agricultural biomass offers a unique opportunity to make a wide range of commercially relevant metabolites.
Fermentech utilizes well-designed unit operations to treat the agro-waste, as well as reactors to ensure that multiple products are produced with high yield. This process produces three different products: prebiotics, enzymes as well as very high CV energy pellets (for heating boilers).
The company currently manufactures four enzymes that have broad applications across different industries. They include pectinase (used by the industry of fruit juice wineries, textile, and aquaculture and wineries industries) amylase (brewery and fruit juice) bakery, pharmaceutical and textile) and the xylanase (bakery animal feed, textile, pulp , and paper) and cellulase (animal feed biofuel, detergents and textile).
At the beginning
The seeds of this company were planted during Sidharth’s PhD time while he was working on a new SSF bioreactor, a process that typically involves the fermentation from solid waste through fungi to making metabolites for commercial interest under the supervision under the direction of Prof. Sanjoy Ghosh, Department of Bioscience and Bioengineering, IIT Roorkee.
The main challenge for the SSF technique is its scalability, and the team could demonstrate an modular design that has the ability to load up substrates with high levels for enzyme production. Results were presented in peer reviewed journals in international journals and an application for patents was filed.
We were able to recognize the economic benefits by using low-cost raw materials to create not just enzymes but also a secondary stream that is rich in economically feasible products. The proof of concept we developed was well-received from BIRAC, Department of Biotechnology and we were granted the highly coveted Biotechnology Initiation grant. In the meantime, The Business Incubator at the IIT-Roorkee Business Institute was also in development and offered us legal support regarding company formation along with team building, as well as access to mentors. Sidharth says.
Alongside bringing the cost of production down through the use of the waste material as a raw material, Fermentech encourages industries to adopt green technology and decrease the use of synthetic chemicals to process biomass.
“Disposal of agro – and fruit waste can be a problem for businesses. For instance, HPMC, an apple juice manufacturer based within Parwanoo, Himachal Pradesh is responsible for producing about 60 tons in apple pomace each day. Godrej is able to produce on a daily basis, produces about 200 tonnes of palm fruit bunches empty. Our solution is designed to not only alleviate the impact of this, but also to add value.” Sidharth adds.
He also says that the venture is in direct alignment with the goal of doubling the farmers’ earnings and reducing carbon emissions as well as at last, making India self-sufficient. About 28,500 farmershave been able to benefit from thisinitiative, and they earn an average of 5000 rupees per year.
Fermentech was launched in the year 2000 with an investment initial of 10 lakh rupees from the company’s founders in the year 2020. The company was awarded an initial seed grant by BIRAC via A-IDEA, NAARM under the BioNest program to increase production of enzymes in 2021. The company also received an initial award through Engineers India Limited for development of cellulase made from agro-waste in the year of 2018.
The company was among the most prestigious 15 grant recipients at the 2021 edition of Land Accelerators South Asia, which was organized through World Resource Institute and Sangam ventures. The company was also one of 2018’s Indian group to Slush which is a meet for startups located in Helsinki, Finland.
The business model and the momentum
The Indian industrial biotechnology (enzymes) market has continued to grow strongly in 2020-21. It grew by 12 percent and reaching 29007 crore in the course of the year, contrast to the 10 percent growth recorded in 2019-20. The sector averaging 2500 crore in the course of the course of.
Fermentech’s business model is centered on sustainability. It collaborates with businesses as well as government entities that produce Agro/fruit/forest and those whose disposal is a issue.
Siddharth tells us, “We use this waste as a raw material for the production of special chemicals, industrial enzymes as well as very high CV energy pellets. In the ideal scenario, the business or government could also be a user of enzymes. This is a win-win situation our goal is to expand operations.”.
HPMC produces about 60 tons of apples pomace every day during the crush season and its disposal can be an issue for the company. This waste can be used by Fermentech to produce of enzymes, such as pectinase.
“HPMC currently imports pectinase to aid in juice clarification. It could be replaced with our product at a very economical cost using HPMC’s waste. Additionally, they can make use of the fermented waste pellets as fuel for the boilers they have!”
Not revealing names, Siddharth states that the startup has two customers: one in the juice industry and another in the baking industry.
In the past year Fermentech Labs has supplied about Rs 50,000 worth of enzymes to bakery, fruit juice and textile industries and also received orders for repeat purchases.
The company’s founder believes that pilot operations in the 150-kg bioreactorover the next three months will allow them to in the addition of at least 10 to 15 new customers within the next 12 months.
“With the facility set to be operational within three months, revenues are anticipated to grow by at minimum 20X over the coming year. The majority of this will be done via distribution channels that are online. We also have applied for FSSAI accreditation for our enzymes for food use,” the founder says.