Consortium to create new products from agricultural waste
Agricultural waste and products deemed not worthy of the supermarket shelf will soon be used to make a range of value-added products — including pharmaceuticals, food additives and cosmetics — thanks to a new $10.9 million research consortium led by the University of Adelaide.
The Agricultural Product Development Research Consortium will bring together a total of 18 partners to develop high-value products from agricultural waste: nine South Australian-based companies from the agriculture and food sector, and another nine national and international academic institutions and industry partners. It has also been granted $4 million over four years by the state government through its Research Consortia Program, with the University of Adelaide contributing $2.3 million (cash and in-kind) and the remaining support coming from partners.
“Agriculture is already a key contributor to South Australia’s economy, but its huge potential to generate high-value products and create new post-farm gate industries has not yet been realised,” said Professor Vincent Bulone, Research Consortium Lead Investigator and Director of Adelaide Glycomics at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus.
“Our agricultural and horticultural industries generate abundant waste biomass, which is currently disposed of at a cost to the produce or [with] only a low return. But there are compounds we can derive from this waste — a range of different ‘biomolecules’ — that have high-value potential applications for their structural or health properties.”
Some biomolecules that can be derived from South Australian crop waste show antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer or gut-health properties, while others provide mechanical strength or texturising properties in food, structural materials, lubricants and cosmetics. Examples include anthocyanins from apples and cherries, and chitosan from mushrooms for use in skincare products; sulforaphane from Brassica vegetables with potential benefits for diabetic patients; and cellulose used for composite materials.
According to Professor Bulone, South Australia is currently importing some of these compounds because there is not the right industry here to extract them and prepare them from waste. The good news is, the method for extracting various molecules from the different waste types he is targeting is often exactly the same because it targets the same class of compound.
“My idea is to scale up and have a manufacturing business established quickly to produce these molecules as commercial products,” he said.
“We could then take all kind of biomass all year round, depending on the season — whether it be cherries, onions or apples — so we can have continuous production.
“I already have two international players that have written letters saying that if we produce it they will buy it, because there is a high need.”
Professor Bulone said he hopes the first commercial products would be ready for launch within 12 months. He said a prototype has already been made of a cartridge made of cellulose from crop waste, which can be integrated into air purification systems and used in piggeries or food storage rooms.
A strong focus of the consortium will be attracting students and researchers and providing training across multiple disciplines and industrial specialisations. It will also conduct research to discover compounds and molecules with potential to become new products in the longer term.
The consortium will build on the work of Adelaide Glycomics, a carbohydrate analytical facility, and make use of other, complementary analytical activities provided by the Adelaide Proteomics Centre at the University’s North Terrace campus. Research partners include the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, CSIRO and Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, where Professor Bulone is a former director of the KTH Advanced Carbohydrate Materials Consortium.
“The lab there specialises in the development of composite materials derived from carbohydrate, so I’m involving the researchers from that university to help with the development of intelligent materials derived from carbohydrates in waste, potentially from cellulose but possibly also from the starch and the pectins to make intelligent packaging materials,” Professor Bulone said.
“For instance, materials that will change colour depending on relative humidity — this can be very useful, particularly if you are wanting to control the moisture content in your packaged foods or vegetables in the storage room.”
Industry partners meanwhile include South Australian producers Filsell’s Orchards, Raw Nation Wholefoods, Ashton Valley Fresh, JVJ Co, SA Mushrooms and Potatoes South Australia. The project also involves Denmark’s Carlsberg Group and South Australia’s Coopers Brewing, along with American ingredients solutions company Ingredion.
“This consortium draws together a unique combination of research expertise, facilities, industry know-how and resources,” said University of Adelaide Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Mike Brooks. “It promises increased profitability and sustainability for our local agricultural and horticultural industries, and significant health and economic benefit for our whole state.
“The consortium has already drawn the support of four international industry partners, which shows the incredible commercial potential to be developed.”
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