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Technologies Of The Year -- Enzyme Alternative Healthier, Safer

Nov. 11, 2005
ADM and Novozymes' chemical-free fat modification process works without creating trans fats, harmful byproducts.

Public and regulatory pressure pushing food manufacturers to lower trans fats in their products also could benefit the environment. That's why in June the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented Novozymes A/S and Decatur, Ill.-based agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) a 2005 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. Novozymes is a Danish enzyme developer and manufacturer with North American headquarters in Franklinton, N.C.

Novozymes and ADM have developed an alternative to the traditional processing of fats and oils used in prepackaged foods such as baked goods and cereals. The enzyme is called Lipozyme TL IM, and the process, called enzymatic interesterification, employs enzymes to change the structure of fatty acids rather than using harsh chemicals or hydrogenation -- a process criticized for creating harmful trans fats.

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View The 2005 Winners Enzymes are proteins and are not considered hazardous to the environment or dangerous to handle. Additionally, using enzymes instead of chemicals in the manufacturing process often reduces steps and caustic byproducts. For instance, the EPA estimates enzymatic interesterification could save 400 million pounds of soybean oil, 20 million pounds of sodium methoxide, 116 million pounds of soaps, 50 million pounds of bleaching clay and 60 million gallons of water each year.

Enzymatic interesterification also provides an alternative for food manufacturers looking to reduce trans fats in their products when the Food and Drug Administration's requirement that all food labels show trans fats amounts takes effect Jan. 1, 2006. Manufacturers use hydrogenated fats to extend shelf life, but trans fatty acids produced during the process can lead to increased serum levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol and decreased levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol.

Previously the only other method that didn't result in trans fats was chemical interesterification, but it creates byproducts that must be bleached and washed away. The enzymatic process doesn't create these byproducts.

Enzymatic interesterification isn't new, but it wasn't until July of 2000 that Novozymes and ADM established the first cost-effective application of enzymatic interesterification. Not only is the process now more affordable, but it's actually less costly than other fat-modification processes because it requires less capital and allows for more flexibility.

Novozymes' North American headquarters develops, makes and markets enzymes.ADM is in the process of building a new interesterification plant in Mankato, Minn., and the cost to build that site is significantly less than a chemical interesterification plant because it requires less capital investment, according to Kim Webster, industry sales manager for Novozymes North America.

Being a less time-consuming process, enzymatic interesterification also allows food manufacturers to produce a wider variety of products.

"It is a reactor vessel that holds the immobilized enzyme, and you pass oil through it versus having several tanks and batch reactions when you're using chemicals," Webster says. "So changing over from running soybean oil to running palm oil to kernel oil to cotton seed is much easier."

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