Phenolic acids : from research to market

Phenolic acids : from research to market

On July 1st, a workshop was held on the potential of phenolic acids, within the framework of the 2020 digital edition of BIOKET, with the aim of exchanging on the main hurdles encountered during the transition from laboratory to industrial scale in the field of bio-sourced chemistry, with phenolic acids as a concrete example.

The 160 participants and the discussions with the speakers highlighted the interest of this family of natural molecules in the development of the plant-based chemistry sector, due to their antioxidant properties and their potential as precursors of other molecules of interest, with applications in chemistry, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, etc.

The workshop was an opportunity to present the competencies of the Carnot 3BCAR network on these molecules of interest, and more broadly those of INRAE, thanks to the state of the art and the latest scientific advances presented by R&D experts in the field. It also provided feedback from the industrial sector experts – from start-ups to large international groups – on the key step of scale-up, with three examples of different applications of phenolic acids.

Through the experiences of Celabor, Oléoinnov, Eurodia industry, Solvay and Seppic, it brings to light there is a real market demand for this molecules. This market represent 35 million euros and demands of ferulic acids and projected to increase to 750 t/year in 2025 and the price range is 30$/kg an 200$/kg due to the molecule purity level. The phenolic acids are already largely use for different markets and specifically in cosmetic with more than 1280 products available.

Through the feed-back of Oléoinnov, Eurodia Industrie, Solvay and SEPPIC, it was highlighted an increasing market demand for these molecules. Phenolic acids are already widely used in many industrial applications; in particular ferulic acid for cosmetics with more than 1280 products available. This market is currently estimated at 35 M$ and the demand for ferulic acid should reach more than 750 t/year by 2025, with a price between 30$/kg and 200$/kg depending on the purity of the molecule and the targeted applications.

The roundtable discussions allowed to identify key elements of success for the creation of new value chains (including new functionalities) based on this family of phenolics:

  • The “time to market” in vegetal-based chemistry is ≠ of that of conventional chemistry
  • Costs of purification and management of co-products and wastes should not be minimized, as phenolic acids are found in low concentrations in plants and in the liquid phases of extraction processes.
  • It is essential to set up extraction and purification processes that are adapted and respectful of the environment, and that preserve the bioactivity of these molecules that meet consumer demand for “naturalness”.
  • It is necessary to promote a multi-product biorefinery approach with full cracking valorization for diverse markets → valorize the “pool” of molecules produced and clearly define the level of final purity required according to applications
  • The sustainable exploitation of European plant resources (including by-products and co-products) can be an opportunity for development and growth; taking into account the regulations (“natural” label, Nagoya protocol, etc


The potential of phenolic acids from biomass of European origin is all the more interesting since the Covid-19 crisis highlighted the “industrial and technological dependence of the French economy and the fragility of certain global value chains”. A call for projects worth 100 million euros to “promote the autonomy and resilience of French industry” has just been launched by the French government, with a focus on essential industrial inputs (chemicals, metals and raw materials) which, in the event of a supply disruption, could have a domino effect on the national or European industry.