The companies replacing petrochemistry-derived perfume molecules with their 100% natural counterpart obtained by green chemistry processes still represent a niche. As the molecules are produced in small quantity, their high cost curbs the development of these natural solutions at a large scale.
“So far, no established brand producing large volumes has claimed an all-natural offering with ingredients derived from green chemistry. However, some customers impose constraints on their use, but the cost of the formula is multiplied by three or four,” says perfumer Antoine Lie.
Much involved in this search for natural perfumes, the creator is now turning to players from new industrial horizons who have been developing natural reactive precursors to be mass-produced – and more affordable.
Valorizing agri-food by-products
Afyren valorizes plant biomass to create molecules that are usually synthesized with oil. “Our solution consists in valorizing agro-industrial by-products to obtain already-existing synthetic molecules based on oil,” explains Jérémy Pessiot, founder and Director of Afyren.
These by-products are derived from the agro-industry, in particular the sugar industry. Afyren retrieves beetroot pulp or treacle at sugar refineries to make them ferment and get organic acids used to produce molecules for different industries, like human and animal food, cosmetics, and of course, aromas and perfumes.
This company founded in 2012 is singular in that it is getting ready for the large-scale production of these natural, environmentally-friendly products. In late 2020, they will launch the works to build a plant based in France intended to supply 16,000 tonnes of organic acid per year. This industrial volume will make the molecules derived from this technology much more competitive and help Afyren become the global leader in this field.
“We have managed to copy nature through biomimicry and make it a 100% natural, waste-free process at the industrial scale satisfying all circular economy criteria. In addition, we will produce seven carboxylic acids at the same time, whereas seven different plants or processes are required to obtain them from oil. Lastly, our process reduces CO2 emissions by 70% per tonne produced,” adds Jérémy Pessiot.
Pending this industrial step, Afyren has already started working with perfume houses to produce solutions in smaller quantity. As far as perfumes are concerned, these molecules are mainly used to get fruity notes and ingredients in the ester family – by combining an alcohol with an acid.
“It is a family that can be reproduced as long as the two natural components are available. There are plenty of esters in the perfume sector: they are rather cheap molecules, so they are widely used. Therefore, it is very interesting to be able to find alternatives. My job consists in guaranteeing olfactory equivalence compared to the synthetic version,” explains Antoine Lie.
Towards original materials
“Players like Afyren use their strike force due to their size to provide perfumers with more and more competitive products as regards the price, but other research programmes focused on new original ingredients are underway,” he adds.
The idea is to try and combine existing natural ingredients with reactants derived from green chemistry. This time, the result might offer the market new olfactory materials, both original and in large quantities.
“This other aspect of creative research is very exciting. It shows green chemistry has a bright future in the perfume sector. All these initiatives contribute to the transition to an ever-greener perfume industry,” states Antoine Lie.