Benign cascade extrative biorefinery for converting agri-food side streams into high-value polyphenolic bioactives and functional fibres for pharma, cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals and food products.
In the pursuit of a circular economy, it is important to identify and use potential feedstocks to their maximum potential and value. Despite this, major inefficiencies are remaining in how we leverage what is available. In Europe’s agricultural sector – the largest producer of residual biomass – around half of this is currently wasted. In addition, much that is used finds its way to low- and mid-value applications such as biofuels, biomethane, composts, animal feed, platform chemicals and polymers. In part, this is because the feedstock is challenging to upcycle to higher-value products due to its varied and variable makeup, supply fluctuations; presenting a challenge also technologically.
Certain agricultural side streams – those from olives, wineries, pomegranates, citrus fruits, chicory, pineapples, berries and onions - are rich in phenolic bioactive ingredients. Many of these bioactives possess antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties, potentially even anticancer and antiviral activities. However, their full potential has yet to be realised, due to a lack of technologies capable of preserving the complexity and functionality of these compounds in a way that is safe, sustainable and can do so in financially viable quantities.
The PHENOLEXA project aims to develop a benign, efficient and environmentally friendly biorefinery process to address this challenge. By focusing on specific agricultural waste streams that are not currently fully exploited for high-value bioactive compounds. It will use a novel biological and physical feedstock pre-treatment followed by benign extraction using novel green solvents and subcritical water, maximising efficiency and preserving the desired qualities of the polyphenols. The ultimate goal is to see these used in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products.
The overarching objective of the PHENOLEXA project is to develop a benign, efficient and environmentally friendly biorefinery process to extract high-value polyphenolic bioactive compounds for high-value applications. Within this, the project will pursue a number of specific objectives.
- From an economic perspective, the impact of the PHENOLEXA project is likely to be substantial. It is focused on high-value applications with high product prices. As part of this, it will develop product prototypes to accelerate market uptake, provide the techno-economic validation to identify the most promising ingredients, bring the industrial players from the relevant sectors (pharma, food, cosmetics, nutraceuticals) for technology validation and business model designs for future market uptake. It will also develop business models for the PHENOLEXA ingredients it develops. For the agriculture sector, it will offer farmers of olive groves and vineyards an improved income stream for their agriwaste.
- From a societal perspective, the project’s focus on high-value sectors such as treatments for cancer, viruses, depression, and cardio wound healing have the potential to prolong and improve quality of life. These will seek to become solutions in areas of high unmet need. In addition, PHENOLEXA will develop ingredients for cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals, prebiotics and functional foods and drinks. It will help raise awareness of the health benefits of naturally sourced polyphenol products, reinforce the concept of zero waste by relying on natural, rather than synthetic, sources.
- From an environmental perspective, the PHENOLEXA project will make use of biomass that currently is used for animal feed, composting or burning for fuel. There is growing evidence, however, that – despite being classed as ‘low carbon’ or ‘carbon neutral’ - burning biomass may contribute significantly to GHG emissions and thus to global warming. By diverting these feedstocks for higher-value products will prevent them from being burned or being sent to landfill, which is also a source of GHGs.
The PHENOLEXA project is aiming at delivering a number of impacts that will contribute to the wider goals of the BBI-JU. These will include:
- Establishing a wide range of new cross-sectoral interconnection between feedstock suppliers, technology developers, end-users and final consumers.
- Developing eight value chains with 13 potential products with possible mid-value applications.
- Validating 12 innovative technologies for processing specific agri side streams, in areas of biomass pre-treatment, extraction techniques, encapsulation techniques and fractionation methods. The pre-treatment represents its first use in targeting polyphenol procurement.
- Demonstrating consumer products’ prototypes at laboratory scale including pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products while also generating some functional fibres and colourants to be used in functional foods and beverages.