Turning food and crop waste into new products
Every year, around one-third of all food produced across the world is wasted before it even reaches the consumer. A team of EU-funded researchers is tackling the problem by turning crop and food-processing waste into high-value products.
© Innovacio i Recerca Industrial i Sostenible (IRIS)
Every year in Europe alone, around 90 million tonnes of food and 700 million tonnes of crop go to waste. The UN reports that the market value of lost or wasted food products across the world as a whole is approximately USD 936 billion. In addition, this waste of resources is responsible for 8 % of all annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU-funded AGRIMAX project is addressing the issue by using this waste to produce new bio-based compounds for the chemicals, food packaging and agricultural sectors. The compounds could end up being used in the manufacture of a variety of products, including bio-composite packaging for food, natural additives for food ingredients, and agricultural products such as fertilisers and biodegradable mulching pots.
We will be working closely with end-users to test the quality and performance of any new products, and any remaining biomass will be used for biogas or returned to the land for soil enrichment, explains project coordinator Albert Torres from IRIS Technology Solutions, Spain. Our aim is for AGRIMAX to become a flagship for the circular economy, where waste finds new applications in the sector that produced it, closing loops between primary production and reuse.
To develop its new compounds, the project team is building two pilot plants to process different types of waste. The first biorefinery is at a family-run farm in northern Italy and is almost ready to start processing waste from tomatoes and cereals. It will produce lycopene, ferulic acid, cutin and hydro-compost. The other refinery is being built at the facilities of a fruit producer in southern Spain. It will process olive and potato waste to produce polyphenols, fibres, protein and aromas.
A variety of processing technologies will be used to find the best solution for each type of waste, including ultrasound extraction, filtration and enzyme treatments. Great care is taken to ensure the supply of waste material heading to the plants is properly coordinated and managed.
The pilot plants are designed to accept multiple feedstocks, and an online stakeholder platform will coordinate the provision of waste from producers across each region, says Torres. This will help us deal with seasonal and regional fluctuations in production so we can make the most of the biorefineries throughout the year, thereby maximising their efficiency and profitability.
The project is committed to developing a model for the use of waste that is viable in the long term, not just technically but also from a business point of view. It will rigorously assess the environmental and ethical issues relating to its production pathways, including all safety and regulatory implications. This work includes assessing the effect of new bio-based fertilisers on soil health.
Moreover, the AGRIMAX team is working on producing business strategies for the commercialisation of any new products it creates. The goal is to ensure sustainability of production and to secure regular incomes for those supplying the biorefineries, including local farmers and horticultural businesses.
The project is also investigating whether these plants could be run by agricultural cooperatives, creating an economically and environmentally sustainable model that could be emulated by others across Europe.
This project is funded under Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) initiative, a public-private partnership aiming at the development of the bio-based industries sector in Europe.