Welcome to part 3 of our regular blog series, breaking down the key news events from the past month. Here we outline the key stories from trade news publications and academic journals that have caught our eye. This month we focus on two sectors, pharmaceuticals and biofuel, to look at how IR sensors can be used to protect trust, frustrate counterfeiters, minimise pollution and prevent engine damage.

1) Using IR to identify halal-compliant pharmaceuticals

In our September blog on food contamination, we highlighted the effect that complex food chains can have on the ability to reliably claim a food is halal. In this we raised the 2008 contamination of lamb burgers with pork products and their sale to schools in the UK city of Leicester, which has a large muslim population. But an academic paper on spectroscopy from earlier this month has really got us thinking. It’s not just food where people need to trust that the ingredients meet with their faith. Arguably more vital is the ability to reassure someone that they don’t have to choose between their faith and their health – with pharmaceutical products often containing pig derivatives due to their low cost and wide availability.

The paper by Rohman and Salamah, both from the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia, highlights that while molecular spectroscopy is an ideal technique for identifying pig derivatives, “molecular spectra are sometimes overlapping and very complex which makes molecular spectroscopy lack sensitivity.”

To find an alternative, the researchers reviewed the development of molecular spectroscopy techniques using ultraviolet-visible, infrared, Raman, and nuclear magnetic resonance.

In particular near, mid and FT-IR techniques were used to analyse a range of common pig-based additives – from lard to porcine gelatine, say the researchers. See results of the analysis comparing lard and coconut oil below.

The paper showed the effectiveness of using IR spectroscopy and highlighted a need for change in the pharmaceutical industry to bring these techniques into common usage. With the conclusion stating, “in the future, these techniques must be standardized to be standard official methods for halal pharmaceuticals authentication.”

Published in the Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, Rohman and Salamah’s paper can be seen here

2) Chemometric analysis in pharmaceuticals

Sticking with pharmaceuticals, researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza, in Italy, have published their review on chemometric methods for spectroscopy-based pharmaceutical analysis.

The paper primarily looks at the ability to use IR and other techniques to identify counterfeit medicines. These may be deliberately and fraudulently mis-labelled: giving a low-cost generic medicine branded packaging, or be counterfeit products made in breach of patent, or with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient active ingredients, or with fake packaging.

The scale of the problem is huge. A 2015 paper in the European Pharmaceutical Review stated: “The cost of counterfeiting to the global economy was estimated to be about $75 billion in 2010, and this figure exceeds the illicit drug trade by around 50% ($50 billion). The supply and distribution of counterfeit medicines is also growing exponentially (90% increase versus 2005).”

Additionally, “The European Agency for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASAM) has indicated that about 50% of all medicinal products purchased from unrecognised or unidentified websites are counterfeit, and that 10% of the total market in developing countries and about 1% in developed countries are also counterfeit.”

It also states, “worryingly, the drugs targeted in the developing world are typically life-saving medicines designed to treat malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS, whereas in the developed world the targets are lifestyle drugs.”

The paper highlights that infrared spectroscopy is a powerful tool in the fight against this counterfeiting: “Coupled to spectroscopic characterization, it represents an indispensable and highly versatile tool for pharmaceutical analysis at all levels.”

3) Biofuel sustainability

Not all biofuels are created equally – the land they demand, the water they use, the food production they displace, and the pollution their production causes can (in some cases – and not just for palm oil) be worse for the environment than fossil fuels – see graph below.

At the same time, the financial incentives to lie about the source of a fuel are high. In a recent blog we highlighted some of these issues and the role IR plays in ensuring the source is what is promised.

A new report led by researchers at the Alta Scuola Politecnica, published in the journal Advances in Water Resources, has extended this to create a new analysis of current world biofuel production – creating a water-food-energy nexus.

The paper examines eight fuel crops for bioethanol (maize, rice, rye, sorghum, sugar beet, wheat) and biodiesel (oil palm, soy) and breaks it down to examine which countries are well suited to growing each individual crop based on each criteria.

The reports Nexus values for Wheat production as a biofuel – higher (darker) is better

For us, one of the most interesting findings in the analysis was for maize. As the report points out, maize is one of the most produced commodities in the world and it is widely used as a feedstock for biofuel production.

The maximum value for the nexus index for maize is 0.611(reached in Belgium) and this is not high. Also, the number of countries with scores close to the highest values is not large. This means that, “despite the large diffusion of maize at the global scale, inefficiencies are widely present and in many cases, the current bioethanol production does not fulfil the requirements of sustainability under a WFE nexus perspective.”

The move to second, and eventually third-generation biofuels that require less land or (in the case of third-generation fuels) can be grown in industrial processes is also taken into account by the researchers’ nexus. And once again, the need to test will be critical as the more shady parts of the supply chain seek to falsify the origin of the biofuels, with IR spectroscopy proven to be an accurate, low-cost, portable method.

See the full review here.

4) Automotive biofuel market growth forecast is a CAGR of 8.67% – hitting $195 billion by 2023, Algae market (all sectors) to see CAGR of 5.2% and reach $45 billion

According to a new report by Research & Markets, the automotive biofuel market is set to grow at a significant rate, almost doubling in size in just 5 years.

Notably, the report highlights a resurgence of research and development of algae-base fuels, stating “Algae fuel, a low cost, high-energy renewable feedstock for third generation biofuel is an emerging trend.”

This mirrors two reports from the start of the month, this time by eMarkets (looking at the growth of algae-based biofuel to 2022) and the investment firm Fish 2.0, which predicts the market for algae will have a CAGR over the same time period of 5.2%, valuing the market at 45 billion.

While this is for the complete market – from cosmetics and chemicals to food and fuel – the report highlights biofuel will be the largest segment of the algae market and the production can work alongside other sectors: “Algae production offers the potential for symbiotic coproduction systems with producers that generate large amounts of waste carbon. Microalgae production can be co-located with wastewater treatment, ethanol production or coal power generation, while macroalgae can feed off nutrients from agricultural runoff in coastal waters.”

The report makes sense, with Exxon-Mobil forecasting 10,000 barrels of algae biofuels a day by 2025.

The growth will be fueled (pun intended) by increasing fossil fuel prices and the growing concern about air pollution, which has led to stringent government regulations to keep a check on vehicular emissions. However, lack of awareness about the advantages of biofuels in automobiles and rising consumer concerns that biofuels damage vehicle engines are the factors restraining the market growth.

These potential limitations highlight that consumers are already aware of the variance in biofuels and the importance of getting it right. Infrared sensors offer an affordable, scalable way to ensure the right fuel is being used to minimise pollution and protect the vehicle, and fuel companies will need to have this marketing in place soon to ensure consumers trust the fuel they’re being served.

The Research and Markets analysis summary can be seen / bought here. The Fish 2.0 report one page here, and the eMarkets report here.