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DSM Animal Nutrition and Health Sponsored Series

Accelerating Sustainable Animal Farming Solutions For a Brighter Future

What the World's First Bio-Based Vitamin A Means for Sustainability

The solution for producing the world’s first fully bio-based Vitamin A has emerged from a common microorganism that is found in countless food products.
By Gary E. Frank
person holding letter tile that says vitamin A

The solution for producing the world’s first fully bio-based Vitamin A has emerged from a common microorganism that is found in countless food products.

The Netherlands-based health, nutrition and bioscience firm DSM has begun customer sampling of the new bio-based Vitamin A. It is the result of pioneering research by the company’s scientists and the development of a proprietary manufacturing process perfected for initial use in environmentally conscious cosmetics products. 

“We realized we had something revolutionary at hand when we first isolated Vitamin A out of a bio-broth with a profile consistent to our existing process,” said Ronald Gebhard, DSM’s vice president of biosciences and process innovation, in a public statement. “Our new fully bio-based process relies on commonly available renewable raw materials and results in a lower carbon footprint and less waste while still delivering the industry-beating quality expected of DSM.”  

What is Vitamin A, and how is it manufactured? 

Vitamin A is considered essential for good health, immunity and digestive systems. It is naturally found in eggs, dairy products, and certain vegetables and fruits, but the form that is used for commercial products must be manufactured. DSM is one of the world’s leading producers of Vitamin A, manufacturing the vital ingredient at a state-of-the-art facility in Sisseln, Switzerland, from where it is then applied in human and animal health products, in food and in feed, as well as for personal care and cosmetics markets around the world. The form of the vitamin used for skincare, known as retinol, is one of the most effective treatments against signs of aging, popularly used to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and blemishes as well as increase collagen production.

Manufacturing Vitamin A at scale became possible following a 1947 scientific discovery at Hoffmann-La Roche, the vitamins business of which was acquired by DSM in 2003. Traditionally, Vitamin A is derived from fish liver oil or synthesized from acetone, a colorless organic liquid compound that is highly volatile and flammable. Further, acetone is derived from fossil fuels, which presents a long-term sustainability challenge.

Instead, DSM’s new process for producing Vitamin A uses a specially developed strain of yeast discovered in DSM’s research and development labs in Lexington, Massachusetts, that converts a renewable, locally-obtained carbon source into Vitamin A. The nature-inspired process has since been refined and proven to be scalable thanks to a global collaboration across six DSM facilities in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. 

New manufacturing process cuts carbon footprint and reduces waste

The fully bio-based proprietary production method has the potential to transform the industry, advancing the environmental ambitions of DSM and its customers across the personal care and cosmetics, food, human health, and animal health markets.

“Until now, the only way to meet the growing demand for Vitamin A has been to build new multi-step chemical production facilities requiring more finite resources,” said Joerg von-Allmen, vice president of vitamins category management at DSM, in a statement. “DSM’s new bio-based process will significantly reduce the carbon footprint and waste of Vitamin A manufacturing while still producing the top-quality customers expect.” 

Moving forward, DSM will increase its manufacturing capacity only through its bio-based process using renewable resources, von-Allmen said.

“As a vocal climate action advocate and leader in this field, we expect this breakthrough to trigger all Vitamin A manufacturers worldwide to reconsider how they will invest to accelerate the transition to a healthier future for people and the planet away from the traditional chemical processes that are based on finite resources,” he continued.

The new process has received an “overwhelmingly positive response,” and DSM plans to commercialize the bio-based Vitamin A in the personal care industry starting in 2023, said Parand Salmassinia, vice president of personal care at DSM. 

“Vitamin A is one of the most in-demand and trusted cosmetic ingredients on the market, and we will now be able to offer an alternative with significant environmental advantages,” Salmassinia said in a statement. “Our innovation will help DSM’s customers lead their product categories in sustainability, offering a considerable contribution to their climate change actions and net zero goals.” 

Salmassinia told PersonalCareInsights that she hopes that the innovation will offer brands, especially in facial skincare, “the opportunity to offer consumers more choices that align with their values.”

“Retinol, specifically, enjoys high awareness among consumers thanks to its trusted image and superior efficacy and we expect a rise of retinol-based products,” she explained.

The development of fully bio-based Vitamin A and the process for manufacturing the ingredient is in line with DSM’s strategic position that “sustainability is a core value.” The company has set four key nutrition goals, including advocating healthy and balanced nutrition for all, improving the nutrient content both of feed and of food, enabling the feeding of the world’s growing population on the basis of the finite natural resources available, and reducing the eco-footprint of food production, “which means keeping it within planetary boundaries.”

“Our pioneering work is a testament to our scientific capabilities and the passion of our scientists around the world who are striving to create better health for people and the planet,” Gebhard said. 

This article series is sponsored by DSM Animal Nutrition and Health.

Image credit: fidaolga/Adobe Stock

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Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

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