The €1.62m-project PUReOPE (Process for Upgrade and Recovery of Polyphenol Extracts) landed €800,000 of its financial backing from the EU’s Eco-Innovation Initiative, a fund aimed at bridging the gap between research and the marketplace.
The 30-month project will seek not only to recover the polyphenols from the brewing, distilling, malting and cereals processing sectors, but also find a commercial market for them within food supplements, feed and cosmetics and to quantify the environmental savings that could be made.
Michael Clancy, director of the project’s lead partner FDT Consulting, told us one of the main challenges was changing the perspective of the food producers on what waste is.
“There should be more focus on the Waste Hierarchy and Circular Economy - just because something isn’t valuable for your production site, doesn’t mean it is waste,” he said.
A report from PUReOPE partner CPL said the global polyphenol market was worth $740m (€656m) with around 17 kilotonnes (kt) in volume sales.
It said the polyphenols market was expected to grow at around 6% per year in value to reach $1b (€0.89bn) by 2020, and at 8.6% per year in volume to reach 25 kt.
Trash and treasure
“I think there will always be some ‘waste’ in the food industry but most of it is simply something that is in the wrong place.”
He said case studies were needed to convince food producers to create another processing plant on their site and to justify upfront capital investment in process equipment, process and quality control and “most importantly” sales and marketing of the extracts produced.
He said it would always be difficult to convince companies focused on producing their own core products like beer, whiskey or soft drinks to start producing a new product with different technical challenges, new markets and an entirely different value proposition.
There was a fear among these companies that divergence could damage their core brand.
Business culture shift
There were several different routes that could be taken, however, including bringing in separate entities to own and/or operate the recovery processes.
Polyphenols have been linked to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, anti-carcinogen, anti-ageing, antiseptic, antiviral and antibiotic properties.
The compounds can be derived from fruits, wines and teas, yet grapeseed polyphenols dominate the global market. Meanwhile green tea is the second-largest category and the most rapidly growing.
“One business model might be where the brewer makes savings in effluent and water charges and another entity funds the recovery equipment and makes money on the polyphenol extracts recovered.
“Another might be where the brewer part funds the equipment and avails of shared savings/revenues from polyphenol sales when in operation.”
The bigger waste picture
Clancy said PUReOPE tied in with the EU’s larger strategy to reduce food waste.
“I think in the future we will see a lot of waste streams being upcycled to produce high value by-products.”
Earlier this year an EU-backed report estimated that 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at €143bn.
The European Commission has highlighted the need for all actors in the food chain to help reduce this waste, from farmers to processors and retailers to consumers.
Processors account for the second-largest chunk of this food waste (19%), following households (53%).