Terviva and Koch Modular: Engineering Food Sustainability with Pongamia

Terviva and Koch Modular: Engineering Food Sustainability with Pongamia

Category:Food, Flavor & Fragrance

Technology Networks recently spoke with Tom Schafer, vice president at Koch Modular, to learn more about how innovative companies like Terviva and Koch Modular are partnering to develop sustainable food alternatives.

Pongamia: Supporting Regenerative Agriculture

Pongamia, a fast-growing legume tree found in subtropical regions across the globe, is emerging as a remarkable solution to the pressing environmental challenges of our time. While thriving in harsh environments where most plants struggle to survive, the pongamia tree possesses unique qualities that make it an ideal candidate for combating climate change. Not only does it sequester carbon, but it also revitalizes soil health and improves water quality.

Additionally, the pongamia tree produces beans with a high nutritional value. These trees were previously unavailable as a food source due to the pongamia tree’s beans and consumable oil’s exceptionally bitter taste. But thanks to the collaborative efforts of scientists at Terviva, a regenerative food and agriculture innovation company, and experts from Koch Modular Process Systems, a groundbreaking large-scale process has been developed to remove this overpowering bitterness. With this innovative technology, pongamia has the potential to become a mainstream food source, offering a sustainable alternative to palm oil and soy.

Engineering Sustainable Food Sources

In their pursuit to transform pongamia into a mainstream food source, Terviva developed a bench-scale process that effectively removes the suite of flavonoids responsible for the oil's overpowering bitterness. Terviva joined forces with Koch Modular, a renowned leader in the development and design of separations process technology and the supplier of modular constructed process systems, to turn this breakthrough process into a cohesive, full-scale manufacturing operation. Engineers at Koch Modular modeled the concepts developed by Terviva with Aspen modeling software to complete a conceptual process design. Once the modeling was complete, drum quatities of the crude degummed pongamia oil were shipped to Koch Modular’s pilot plant in Houston, Texas to initiate the pilot testing process.

Pilot Testing: A Critical Step to Successfully Scale-Up

Pilot testing is critical within the chemical processing industry to enable the successful scale-up for a solvent extraction process. Engineers cannot accurately predict the performance of liquid-liquid extraction equipment solely from the physical properties of the fluids being processed. Observations of the behavior of the fluids in the operating equipment (empirical data) is needed to determine factors like phase separation, tendency to form emulsions, coalescence of dispersed phase droplets on internals, flooding, rag layer formation, etc.

Initial data generated at the Houston pilot plant informed Koch Modular engineers that the process carried out by Terviva needed to be fine-tuned in order to be successful at a full-scale manufacturing operation. Koch Modular also found that during the solvent recovery steps, the modeling software didn’t always predict the correct vapor pressures of certain compounds and impurities. This required Koch Modular engineers to test different operating pressures to correct the process and minimize thermal degradation of products

Terviva and Koch Modular’s combined efforts resulted in the design and scale-up of a safe operating plant, setting the stage for the widespread adoption of pongamia oil in the food industry. With its exceptional nutritional profile, pongamia oil outshines many commonly used oils in today's market, including canola, peanut, soybean, and sunflower.

What is the Future of Pongamia?

Koch Modular is currently constructing a demonstration-scale process system with plans for delivery to a site in New Orleans, Louisiana, scheduled for the summer of 2023. Once the demonstration-scale system is operational, the focus will shift towards further refining and fine-tuning the process to optimize its efficiency. This will serve as a crucial step before constructing their Generation Two plant, which is expected to increase the oil capacity by an impressive tenfold.

Meanwhile, PonovaTM oil has already entered the market as a novel ingredient. It can now be found in Aloha's Kona Bar, a sustainable protein bar supporting regenerative farming practices.

Tom Schafer, vice president at Koch Modular Process Systems, spoke about pongamia and the new large-scale process in an interview with Technology Networks. Read the full Q&A here.


Tom Schafer, Koch Modular Co-Founder & Vice President

Chat with Tom

Tom Schafer is a chemical engineer with 45 years of experience in process design, operations management, cost estimating, plant layout, and sales & marketing—specific expertise in equipment design, including distillation, heat transfer, fluid flow, and process control. Tom holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Manhattan College.

Email: tom.schafer@kochmodular.com