CBD manufacturers could and should look at using a fermentation process to extract cannabidiol, a new report suggests.
The study, led by Konstantinos Vavitsas of the University of Athens on behalf of synthetic biological engineering network SynBioBeta, and entitled “Cannabinoid fermentation: scalability, purity, and sustainability for an emerging market” suggests the new method would end up with a more consistent product and could be more efficient in the long term.
It estimates that a 20,000 sq ft facility using traditional methods could extract a third of a ton of CBD, whereas one using fermentation could make 20 tons, or a 60-fold increase.
Bio-fermentation works by creating a biosynthetic cluster of genes, which are in turn inserted into bacteria, where it is able—in the words of the study—to “provide instructions” to the host to produce cannabinoid compounds. It can then be replicated on a larger scale, meaning the materials created can be turned into purified substances, potentially at commercially scalable levels.
However, short-term costs would be significantly higher—currently six to eight times more than regular cannabinoid extraction.
Overall, the report says that realistically, fermentation would supplement—rather than replace—all current production methods.
It could be between 18 and 24 months until the process became viable, according to cannabis expert David Kideckel writing in the journal Nature and quoted in the report.
Microbial production yields are so far small. The reported yields in yeast are in the range of a few mL per liter, and these yields should “increase by at least 100-fold for the cost to be competitive with plant-extracted cannabinoids,” according to Jason Poulos, chief executive of Californian synthetic cannabis producer, Librede.
“Working with plant enzymes is not straightforward, as they are evolved to work in their natural hosts. Moreover, enzyme modifications are needed to increase their specificity and yields,” the report says.
It adds that the lack of clarity in US regulations creates difficulty in obtaining research permits to work with synthetic cannabinoids.
Nonetheless, at least 25 different companies, including Amyris, Gingko Bioworks, Hyasynth Bio, Demetrix, and German firm Farmako, have already invested in fermentation, according to SynBioBeta.
Fermentation is likely to be of particular interest to companies interested in purity and bioactivity, the report says.
It is hardly surprising that SynBioBeta, a synthetic biology networking company, is plumping for cannabinoid fermentation. But the study does provide a realistic look at the advantages and potential problems stemming from using bio-fermentation.
It also points out that there are a myriad of issues with traditional agricultural production—growth cycles slowing down production, large amounts of light, water and land required—particularly when greenhouse production is considered. Large quantities of chemicals as well as labor are also needed during production, harvesting and distilling.
These are unknown variables that could easily drive up the production costs of agricultural cannabinoids. And the number of companies looking at working with microbial extraction means it is well worth keeping an eye on.
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