Cavis MicroCaps, set up in 1999, has developed a membrane technology consisting of several layers of natural material that coat microspheres containing ingredients for food or feed applications.
"It is the same principle as a teabag. The tea stays inside but the membrane surrounding it lets in water," explained Cavis managing director Dr Rainer Pommersheim.
"So for example with yeast, the fermentation takes place inside the capsule after sugar is transported through the membrane [but not outside in the product to which it is added]," he told NutraIngredients.com.
The Multi Layer Capsules, made from algae, silica, calcium and oil, are also suitable for encapsulation of vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fatty acids. In the last case, companies can add oil-based ingredients to a dry application without facing the usual formulation issues when adding oil to dry matter.
A number of different encapsulation technologies are already available to food and supplement makers but Cavis believes that its membrane technology offers significant advantages over more commonly used methods.
"It is a very gentle encapsulation process and there is little loss in the materials," said Dr Pommersheim.
The process is based on polyelectrolyte complexes, also used in products like contact lenses, but not yet seen in the food industry, believes Pommersheim.
Cavis has been working with German food and beverage companies for just over a year, and with BASF for a couple of years longer.
It has now raised €5 million in funding through the investment from BASF's Venture Capital fund as well as a further €3 million from life sciences venture capital fund Inventages, which will allow it to expand production capacity.
"Current capacity is around 60 tons per year but we are hoping to expand to more than 1000 tons," said Dr Pommersheim.
BASF declined to disclose further details about future collaboration with the firm but the Cavis MD said the investment would lead to a 'closer' partnership.
BASF has also recently invested in US-based Advanced BioNutrition, previously spun off from Martek Biosciences, with a focus on aquaculture feed. ABN has also developed an encapsulation technology designed to protect probiotics and other sensitive ingredients from processing conditions.
Demand for encapsulation technologies has been estimated to be growing at around 10 per cent, driven both by increasing fortification with health ingredients and consumer demand for novel products.
Encapsulation allows manufacturers of food and beverages, as well as other consumer products, to add unusual ingredients to products not normally used in traditional processing.
It can also decrease costs for food makers, particularly those using sensitive ingredients like probiotics, where overages are frequently used to guarantee shelflife.