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Biofertilisation: the C2R-BioNut LabCom is up and running

On 3 December, the common laboratory between the Joint Research Unit for Agro-Industrial Chemistry (CAI) and the company AgroNutrition, was inaugurated.  A look back at the creation of this LabCom called C2R-BioNut, its research and development goals and the benefits anticipated from the collaboration for its two partners.

original device to boost innovation in SMEs / ETI and public research structures .. © INRA, Z. MOULOUNGUI

Set up in 1975, the Agro-Industrial Chemistry Laboratory, which has since become the INRA/INP(ENSIACET Joint Research Unit for Agro-Industrial Chemistry, was the first public research entity to include the chemistry of agricultural resources in its scientific approaches.

Since 2009, the Unit has enjoyed active collaborations with the SME AgroNutrition, which specialises in biofertilisation. Several jointly-owned patents* have been filed. The LabCom is in natural continuity of the work achieved to date.

A LabCom that can respond to the challenges of the circular economy

Biofertilisation responds to the broad challenge of ensuring sustainable agriculture that can produce high yields and has a limited environmental impact.  This area of investigation, the common thread of work by the LabCom, has been addressed in three complementary ways: the chemistry of renewable resources, agronomy and biotechnologies.  Glycerol is a by-product of the oleochemicals sector that is available in large quantities and needs to be exploited, and this is indeed the second major theme addressed by the Labcom.

Based on glycerol molecules, research aims to explore original pathways for the production of synthons, monomers and oligomers of the carbonate glycerilic type, and to investigate their functional properties for adjuvantation, complexation and the formulation of fertilising elements.  Some of these molecules can be used more specifically to formulate fertilisers that are applied to foliage.  They could also be exploited to formulate "biosourced" solutions that will optimise the efficacy of organic or mineral products (biostimulant, biofertilising, etc.) through their direct application on seeds.

The issue of limiting inputs is addressed by working on the development of biofertilisers based on interactions between micro-organisms and cultivated plants.  Glycerol chemistry could provide solutions to overcome the obstacles specific to developing plant health products (biofertilisers, biostimulants and agents for the biocontrol of diseases).
One original angle is also being explored: exploitation of the lipid membrane constituents that are naturally present in plants (oleosomes, phospholipids, sterols, etc.) to enhance reversible adsorption synergies with micro-organisms or "biosourced" extracts included in biofertilisers.  This approach would enable the formulation of active substances in the form of thin films to stimulate a nutricitor effect, for example in response to a biotic or abiotic stress.

Collaboration versus LabCom: the views of the different partners

A LabCom is based on shared governance and the compilation of a common road map with a long-term objective, which is for the company to gain value from the partnership.  This type of instrument can provide:  

  • for the CAI, an opportunity to listen to and understand the problems faced by companies when trying to achieve development to a high TRL,  
  • for AgroNutrition, support with more fundamental research. According to Cédric Cabanes, the CEO of AgroNutrition, who also represents the French Union of Chemicals Industries (UIC) in the Midi-Pyrénées region, a LabCom is a valuable tool for SME/ETI who wish to develop their differentiation in a niche market.  

* List of patents filed jointly by AgroNutrition and the CAI

  • Z. MOULOUNGUI, Z. ABDEL BAKI, R. VALENTIN,  B. ZEBIB, Procédé de synthèse d’oligomères de glycérol acylés (Process for the synthesis of acylated glycerol oligomers).  PCT/FR2014/050563 filed on 12 March 2014. WO2014/140480A1
  • Z. MOULOUNGUI, Z. ABDEL BAKI, R. VALENTIN,  B. ZEBIB, Oligomères organiques de glycérol acylés (Organic oligomers of acylated glycerol). PCT/FR2014/050564  filed on 12 March 2014. WO2014/140481A1.
  • F. ATTA, C. CABANES, M. GUEUNIER, Z. MOULOUNGUI, B. ZEBIB, R. VALENTIN, Z. ABDELBAKI, Utilisation d’esters carboniques de glycérol acylés en agriculture (Use of carbonic esters from acylated glycerol in agriculture).  PCT/FR2014/050567 filed on 12 March 2014. WO2014/140484A1

4 other patents are currently in publication

Scientific contact(s):

  • Zephirin Mouloungui (05 34 32 35 20) INRA/INP(ENSIACET Joint Research Unit for Agro-Industrial Chemistry (UMR 1010)
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering
Associated Centre(s):


AgroNutrition, a subsidiary of the De Sangosse group, designs, manufactures and sells nutritional supplements for plant production (arable crops, vine, arboriculture, market gardening). The company works in four particular areas:

  • Prevention and treatment of trace element deficiencies,
  • Improvement of the nutrient quality of agricultural products,
  • Environmental fertilisation,
  • Nutricitors

For more information on LabComs

LabComs (Common Laboratories) were initiated in early 2013 by the French National Research Agency (ANR).  The aim of this funding arrangement is to develop the potential for collaboration and transfer that exists among actors in academic research by creating partnerships between a research unit and company focused on a common agenda.

The principal impact expected is to offer SME and ETI on the one hand, and research organisations on the other, an opportunity to collaborate for a period of 3 years in implementing effective R&D and innovation activities.  The Agency funds these partnerships to a level of €300,000 over three years, and provides support for the projects during their two phases of operation.

The initial aim of the programme was to create 100 Labcoms in 3 years. To date, 71 have been set up, and six of them involve INRA.

To achieve its initial ambition, the ANR has continued this investment for 2016.

The other 5 INRA labcoms

Estim Development of stimulators of plant vitality (initiation: second half of 2015)
Company partner: AREXHOR Pays de la Loire
Academic partner: Research Institute for Horticulture and Seeds (UMR-IRHS) – INRA/Agrocampus/Université d’Angers
FeedScreen Identification and development of tools to evaluate the health value of ingredients in cattle feed (initiation: first half of 2014)
Company partner: Deltavit
Academic partner: Joint Research Unit for Food Toxicology (TOXALIM)
INRA/ENVT/EI-Purpan/Université Paul Sabatier
For more information: See the article in Live from the Labs  – April 2014.
Ortesa Optimisation and exploration of technologies for extraction and alternative solvents (initiation: second half of 2013)
Company partner: Naturex
Academic partner: Joint Research Unit for the Safety and Quality of Plant Products (SQPOV) INRA/Université d’Avignon et des pays de Vaucluse
For more information: Consult the ANR datasheet on the project
SeQuaMol Semen quality and fertility in cattle: development of new molecular diagnostic tools (initiation: first half of 2014)
Company partner: ALLICE (ex UNCEIA)
Academic partner: Joint Research Unit for Developmental Biology and Reproduction
For more information: Consult the article in Live from the Labs – May 2014
VIRAL Development and transfer of innovative high-throughput molecular biology tools to identify and characterise avian and rabbit viruses (initiation: first half of 2015)
Company partner: Filavie
Academic partner: Joint Research Unit for Pathogen/Host Interactions (IHAP)  INRA/INPT (ENVT)
For more information: Consult the ANR datasheet on the project