Lourdes Morales-Oyervides1,2, Jorge C. Oliveira2, Maria J. Sousa-Gallagher2 Alejandro M!endez-Zavala1, Julio C. Montañez1*
1 Department of Chemical Engineering, Universidad Aut!onoma de Coahuila, Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico
2 Process & Chemical Engineering, School of Engineering, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Process optimisation techniques increasingly need to be used early on in research and development of processes for new ingredients. There are different approaches and this article illustrates the main issues at stake with a method that is an industry best practice, the Taguchi method, suggesting a procedure to assess the potential impact of its drawbacks. The Taguchi method has been widely used in various industrial sectors because it minimises the experimental requirements to define an optimum region of operation, which is particularly relevant when minimising variability is a target. However, it also has drawbacks, especially the intricate confoundings generated by the experimental designs used. This work reports a process optimisation of the synthesis of red pigments by a fungal strain, Talaromyces spp. using the Taguchi methodology and proposes an approach to assess from validation trials whether the conclusions can be accepted with confidence. The work focused on optimising the inoculum characteristics, and the studied factors were spore age and concentration, agitation speed and incubation time. It was concluded that spore age was the most important factor for both responses, with optimum results at 5 days old, with the best other conditions being spores concentration, 100,000 (spores/mL); agitation, 200 rpm; and incubation time, 84 h. The interactive effects can be considered negligible and therefore this is an example where a simple experimental design approach was successful in speedily indicating conditions able to increase pigment production by 63% compared to an average choice of settings.