Continuous Fermentation Bioprocess Resolving Food Waste Issues from Greek Yogurt Production

EPA Contract Number: 68HERC21C0050
Title: Continuous Fermentation Bioprocess Resolving Food Waste Issues from Greek Yogurt Production
Investigators: Guzman, Juan J
Small Business: Capro-X Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: II
Project Period: April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2023
Project Amount: $400,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2021) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


Capro-X, Inc. is a biotechnology company that was founded in 2017 with the goal of decreasing the expense and environmental impact associated with the handling of dairy production wastes and byproducts. Using a novel fermentation process, called the WheyAway, Capro-X converts lactose-containing dairy industry process streams into treated water and a mixture of valuable fatty acid chemicals. The WheyAway provides a promising opportunity to solve waste issues experienced by the dairy industry both in the US and abroad. The company envisions an initial multi-sided revenue model: installing and operating WheyAway systems through Treatment as a Service (TaaS) contracts to a beachhead market of Greek yogurt producers; and selling fatty acids as sustainable specialty chemicals targeted to the flavor and fragrance industry. With economies of scale, Capro-X will pivot away from the service based model and towards a managed biorefinery model of purchasing dairy byproducts and upcycling them to useful chemicals, as well as system sales and licensing.

In the recently completed Phase 1 project, Capro-X significantly improved the WheyAway process by: a) validating a novel high performance bioreactor architecture, which will increase fatty acid production and waste treatment rates; demonstrating the ability to valorize mixed wastes from dairy plants containing lactose and sucrose, which will expand addressable market opportunities; and identifying opportunities to improve extraction chemistry to harvest fatty acids at higher rates, which will increase overall bioprocess productivity and market value for the food ingredient industry.

With award of this Phase 2 project, Capro-X will scale the entire bioprocess by 10x from the bench-scale, optimize operating conditions and reactor dimensions for the novel bioreactor architecture, evaluate optimal conditions for treating mixed plant dairy wastes, and identify optimal extraction chemistry to maximize extraction rates of fatty acids. With these improvements, Capro-X is confident that the research efforts will be directly implemented into the first commercial WheyAway installation, which is planned to be installed at a local Greek yogurt plant at the close of this Phase 2 project in 2023. Upon entering the market, Capro-X expects to: save early Greek yogurt customers at least 25% on their current expense, entirely eliminate diesel consumption due to trucking production wastes hours off-site, increase water reuse opportunities by producing potable water from the WheyAway output, decrease dependence on foreign oleochemicals, and provide training and development opportunities in rural areas of the US.

SBIR Phase I:

Continuous Fermentation Bioprocess Resolving Food Waste Issues From Greek Yogurt Production  | Final Report