Extraction of an Insecticidal Factor from Peas

The business opportunity

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researchers have developed a patented process to extract a natural insecticide from commercially produced pea flour, made from common field peas. It is an alternative to synthetic insecticides such as organophosphates that are toxic to humans. Measured at the end-user level, the global insecticide market is worth US$13 billion (2013). It is growing at 3.9% annually.Footnote 1 Its home and garden segment, worth US$5 billion, is growing at 8% annually, driven by increased urbanization.Footnote 2


Growing resistance to pesticides, greater restrictions on the use of chemical insecticides and the outright banning of some is driving demand for ‘green' products. Furthermore, only 0.1 % of pesticides used reach the pest; the rest impacts the environment. As a result of all these factors, the market for natural pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) is growing strongly: 15.6 % annually.Footnote 3 In spite of this, such products remain scarce: from 1997 to 2010, only 7 of 109 new active pesticides approved in the United States (U.S.) were natural products.Footnote 4

The AAFC insecticide has proven effective against insects such as stored grain weevils and most recently mosquito larvae. AAFC is seeking to work with a licensee to carry out screening tests on home and garden insects toward formulating the insecticide for consumer use. As a naturally occurring insecticide, regulatory approval of the AAFC product should be less costly and complex.

Solution/Technology description

Although legume seeds have long been known to deter some insects, the biochemicals at work have not been previously identified. Their identification by AAFC represents a breakthrough in isolating naturally-occurring insecticides. Well-known examples include pyrethrins from chrysanthemums, used in ancient China; and, azadirachtins first isolated from Indian neem trees, (Azadirachta indica). This invention builds on previous AAFC workFootnote 5 that demonstrated control of insect pests by an unidentified crude extract of pea flour. The current AAFC patentsFootnote 6 identify the insecticide and provide a practical process to extract it from commercially produced pea flour.

The insecticide is a mixture of pea albumin 1b-related peptides and non-active but synergistic soyasaponins. AAFC's work establishes for the first time their role as a synergist: effective over a broad range of peptide/saponin ratios, allowing flexibility in maximizing use of the cheaper component.

The separation process, shown below in Figure 1, uses aqueous alcohol to extract the insecticide (spray dried extract). Further refinements beyond the patent were used to produce kilogram quantities of the insecticide under pilot plant conditions.

Figure 1: Process Flow Sheet for Pea Flour Extract

Description of this image follows
Description – Figure 1

Pea flour is the primary input of the pea flour extraction process. The pea flour undergoes an Alcohol Treatment Process. Residual Pea Flour is removed as a by-product and the alcohol extract undergoes further processing. The further processing yields an insoluble gum of phospholipids by-product and the desired spray dried extract, which has the insecticidal properties.

The process yields two co-products. The main one, essentially residual pea flour, has potentially improved taste characteristics (less astringent). It is nearly white, alcohol-insoluble flour depleted in oligosaccharides. The pea flour supplier, Parrheim Foods has expressed interest in this co-product.

The phospholipid (lecithin) fraction, although requiring more study, may also be of interest to the pulse crop industry. Currently, soya is a major source of lecithin, sold as a food supplement and for medical use. The AAFC-derived lecithin would be classified as a non- genetically modified (GM) food ingredient.

The offering

AAFC seeks to work with an insecticide producer who will screen the insecticide against a broad range of home and garden insects. Two years of pilot-scale process development, extracting the insecticide from 500 kilograms (kg) samples of commercial pea flour have established its practicality. AAFC will work with the producer to formulate the product for commercial use. Small samples of the insecticide are available for testing under the terms of a Material Transfer Agreement.

The stage of development

On the NASA 1-9 scale (1 = basic principles observed & reported; 9 = thoroughly demonstrated and tested in full scale operations), the Technology Readiness Level of the AAFC invention is 4.5 for its application against insects and 1.5 for its use against mosquitos.

The market

In 2013, home and garden insecticides comprised a US$5 billion world market, part of the global US$13 billion insecticide market,Footnote 7 estimated to be growing at 3.9 % annually.Footnote 8 The most rapid growth is in biopesticides: a US$2.8 billion market (2013) growing 15.6 % annually.Footnote 9 Based on world market segmentation, home and garden bioinsecticides are estimated to be worth US$1.1 billion at the user level.

This represents a US$550 million (2013) world market for insecticide producers, growing to $1.1 billion in the next five years (2019). Depending on the additional market share this invention captures, it could represent US$11-110 million in sales for insecticide producers as shown below.

Table 1: Potential additional annual sales for an insecticide producer (2019)
New market share Value of new sales (US$ millions)
1% 11
5% 55
10% 110

The global pesticide market (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) is concentrated in the top ten global agrochemical producers, listed below in Table 2. Collectively, they control nearly 75 % of the global pesticide market. They would comprise an important target market for AAFC insecticide.

Table 2: The world's top ten pesticide producers
Company 2007 Agrochemical Sales (US $ millions) % Market Share
Source: Agrow World Crop Protection News, August 2008
Bayer (Germany) 7,458 19
Syngenta (Switzerland) 7,285 19
BASF (Germany) 4,297 11
Dow AgroSciences (USA) 3,779 10
Monsanto (USA) 3,599 9
DuPont (USA) 2,369 6
Makhteshim Agan (Isreal) 1,895 5
Nufarm (Australia) 1,470 4
Sumitomo Chemical (Japan) 1,209 3
Arysta Lifescience (Japan) 1,035 3
Top 10 Total 34,396 89

U.S. data provides further detail on the structure of the American pesticide market, from producers down to formulators and distributors, as shown below. For example, the Scott's Miracle Grow Company, with US$2.8 billion (2013) in sales would be classified among the major U.S. pesticide producers. This suggests an additional potential licensee market of about 15 mid-size U.S. producers.

U.S. pesticide market structure

  • Major pesticide producers: 12
  • Other pesticide producers: 100
  • Major pesticide formulators: 120-150
  • Other pesticide formulators: 1,550
  • Major distributors and establishments: 150-250
  • Other distributors and establishments: 13,250

Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates based on EPA proprietary data.

Investment and payback

As shown above, the estimated annual payback for a licensee ranges from US$11-110 million, assuming five years to realize the invention's market potential. Cost estimates to carry out the required product and market development are unavailable at this time.

Business contact

Stephen Capelle, Commercialization Officer
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
500 – 303 Main Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 3G7

Telephone: (204) 259-4202
Fax: (204) 259-4169
Email: stephen.capelle@agr.gc.ca

Companies interested in licensing this technology should submit an Expression of Interest to AAFC by October 17, 2014.

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