Novozymes, BTEC Collaboration Makes Great Hand Sanitizer
[Editor’s note: Since this article was first published by North Carolina State University in June 2020, BTEC continues to produce hand sanitizer for NC State and also for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Since starting last May, BTEC has produced more than 2,400 gallons of hand sanitizer. It was a new experience for BTEC to obtain the necessary alcohol permits and FDA approval to produce hand sanitizer. The university partnered with Novozymes, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science, which provided funding support for the effort.]
During the coronavirus crisis, a creative partnership emerged to use alcohol from biofuel production to tackle a hand-sanitizer shortage – and keep returning NC State students, staff and faculty safer, as well as people at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
Fewer cars on the road, due to shelter-in-place regulations in various states across the country, created an opportunity to use surplus ethanol – a type of alcohol used in automobile and truck fuels – to make hand sanitizer.
For two problem-solving partners, the opportunity means working together to mitigate local shortages of hand sanitizer, an important but sometimes hard-to-find product that can help keep coronavirus at bay.
NC State University and Novozymes, the world’s largest industrial biotechnology company with North American headquarters in North Carolina, are combining forces to produce more than 600 gallons of hand sanitizer. The resulting product will help keep NC State students, faculty and staff safer.
Daunting challenges bring serious thinking
“COVID-19 has presented everyone with daunting challenges – sparking the need for some serious thinking outside the box,” says Brian Brazeau, president for Novozymes North America and vice president, bioenergy. “We have all been driving less, we have seen the empty shelves of hand sanitizer – yet few probably realize it is possible to connect the two: What if we could use that surplus of ethanol and quickly redirect it to solve one of the key challenges of the current crisis?”
With NC State staff and faculty slowly returning to campus and students scheduled to return Aug. 10, Novozymes wanted to explore whether its biotechnology and relationships to both the renewable fuel industry and NC State could be utilized to ensure proper availability on campus of hand sanitizer – and solve the challenge of scarcity.
NC State’s Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC), which trains the next generation of biomanufacturing workers, wanted to use its pilot biomanufacturing infrastructure to help the campus.
“BTEC staff recognized back in March that production of hand sanitizer was a way to support the NC State community,” said Gary Gilleskie, BTEC’s executive director. “We greatly appreciate the generosity of Novozymes – both in giving time to help solve our ethanol procurement issues and through the donation of ethanol. We would also like to recognize NC State’s Kenan Institute for its generous financial support. Without the support from both organizations, BTEC may not have been able to produce the hand sanitizer that is now being used throughout NC State’s campus.”
Using WHO-recommended ethanol formula
After receiving FDA approval, BTEC began producing hand sanitizer in mid-May using a formula recommended by the World Health Organization. The sanitizer is being bottled in one-gallon containers at BTEC’s facility on NC State’s Centennial Campus and will be available across NC State’s campus.
“The creative partnership has truly been a strong example of quickly seizing opportunities out of a very bad situation for all – matching BTEC’s leadership and innovation mindset with Novozymes’ passion for hands-on problem-solving and experience in the ethanol industry, while coming up with a solution that makes a real, tangible impact for our community,” Brazeau said.
Novozymes and NC State are no stranger to collaboration. The university recently received from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Novozymes’ parent philanthropic arm, a $27 million grant to enhance biopharmaceutical manufacturing and a $30 million grant to improve crop resilience.