Olive leaf mutli-product cascade based biorefinery: From an under-used biomass in the primary sector to tailormade solutions for high aded value international market applications.
Olive groves are a common sight throughout southern Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean countries and in Portugal. While the fruit of the olive tree is a well-known and widely used resource, olive production also creates around 4.5 million tonnes of leaves each year as a by-product. Currently, to avoid problems; these needs to be removed from the fields and the mills and disposed of. Although rich in potential bio-resources, the leaf mass is notoriously difficult to work with; only around 0.2% of this is currently used for extracts; the remainder is burnt – either in the fields or used for fuel – or fed to animals. However, disposing of them in this way means that a potential 1 million tonnes of bioactive compounds, 1 million tonnes of cellulose and 1.5 million tonnes of lignin are underexploited.
To address this, the OLEAF4VALUE project has been created to develop a complete valorisation system for these olive leaves. It will extract and isolate high added value bioactive compounds (polyphenols, triterpenoids, essential oils, lipids, lignocellulose) with high-market potential in the food, feed, chemical, nutraceutical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical sectors.
The project has assembled a consortium to ensure this biomass is fully valorised at all stages of the value chain. This will use advanced, sustainable green extraction and isolation technologies to sequentially separate all fractions and compounds of value while pursuing a zero-waste approach. These will use to develop tailor made products to match end-user market needs from high value sectors; the presence of the large companies in the consortium will ensure the products are properly market oriented.
The overarching object the project is a sustainable solution devoted to the full valorisation of olive leaves to produce bio-based, cost-effective products for the primary sector. Within this, the project will pursue a number of specific objectives.
- From an environmental perspective, the project will address the current problems posed by leaves generated during pruning of the trees and when the fruit is being processed. Currently, this poses a risk of fermentation, plant diseases and blocking spoil oxygenation. If these leaves are valorised rather than burned – as is currently the case for a great deal of them – it prevents CO2 and particulates emissions and makes it easier to maintain soil health.
- From a social perspective, a good proportion of the activities of the project will be focused on rural areas, where the materials are created. By creating highly qualified jobs – as many as 400 in the bio-based industry - and bringing economic investment to these areas, it will counter the effect of the drift to urban settings that affect rural areas, reaching as many as 250 primary cooperatives and more than 120,000 farmers
- From an economic perspective, the project will introduce a range of new high-value bio-based products, feeding into a growing market demand for such products. In addition, the valorisation solution will be environmentally and socially sustainable, creating valuable side streams that are highly competitive with low production costs.
The OLEAF4VALUE project is aiming at delivering a number of impacts that will contribute to the wider goals of the BBI-JU. It will:
- Create five new cross-sectoral interconnections. This will connect the primary (olive) sector with technology providers/biorefining sector and with the R&D sector in the sensor technology and smart supply chain. It will also connect the technology providers/biorefining sector with the R&D sector, the technology providers/biorefining sector with high added-value markets, and the R&D sector with the brand owners.
- Establish six new value chains in the food, feed, chemical industry, cosmetics, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical value chains.
- Advance the technology readiness level of a range of the technologies and applications being used in OLEAFVALUE.