Lab at the Biotech Campus Delft

The fight against climate change and for the sustainable production of food ingredients has a new ally: artificial intelligence. Delft University of Technology and DSM engage in a project to develop bio-based products and processes faster and smarter. Under the name Artificial Intelligence for Biosciences ( five PhD students will start their research.

In the coming year, five PhD students will be racking their brains about the application of artificial intelligence in the bio-based industry. Using mathematical models, they can accurately predict the consequences of adjusting a production process. “Basically, they make a digital copy of a real factory in the computer,” says Senior Scientist, DSM Biotechnology Center Renger Jellema. “There they mimic the processes that also take place in real life – and consider how they might improve them. Take for example a fermentation process. If we feed our microorganisms too little or too much sugar, they produce less. Using artificial intelligence, we can calculate the consequences of adjusting the sugar supply very quickly. We can also determine the sugar optimum.”

More, better and faster

Until now, companies have been making these kinds of decisions on the basis of experience and lots of laboratory experiments. But thanks to artificial intelligence, researchers can run more and much more complex calculations. And they can do so a lot faster, too. Jellema: “So we can calculate how to produce more and at the same time how to do so in the most sustainable way, using less energy or raw materials. We can calculate a lot of possibilities and select the best option. Then we collect data on how the process works in practice. This allows us to further improve the artificial intelligence; it is a ‘learning system’.”

More sustainable production

Artificial intelligence is the future. Jellema expects spectacular breakthroughs in life sciences. That’s why DSM is now investing in five PhD students at Delft University of Technology for a period of five years. Jellema: “We will see to it that data and knowledge from our laboratories and bio-based factories becomes available. Delft University of Technology adds its knowledge of artificial intelligence. In the ‘ Lab’ we combine this. In the five PhD tracks we zoom in on the production, the fermentation process and the development and improvement of micro-organisms that produce food ingredients with the help of artificial intelligence. Ultimately, we want five people to become PhDs within five years. We aim at using the developed AI methods developed in our plants worldwide.”

New companies

If all goes well, it won’t stop there. “We hope that the new knowledge will also lead to new start-ups. That would tie in nicely with the development of Planet, an organization that helps new companies get started at the Biotech Campus Delft,” says Jellema. “That’s why we’re looking for PhD students with an understanding of artificial intelligence, a heart for sustainability and the ambition to become entrepreneurs. That’s a rare combination! We are lucky that Delft University of Technology has an excellent reputation in artificial intelligence and large research groups. That’s what you want to be part of as a PhD student.” Together with Delft University of Technology, DSM is providing guidance. “This is exciting for us too! We are going to do our best to make this a great success!”