New Project Could Turn Olive Oil Byproducts Into Revenue Stream

Olive oil pomace and wastewater are broken down into protein and phenolic isolates, both of which can be used in various industrial applications from pet foods to cosmetics.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Schwarzkopf
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 4, 2019 08:05 UTC
Photo courtesy of Matthew Schwarzkopf

A new research project in the European Union is inves­ti­gat­ing ways in which to use agri­cul­tural residues as an alter­na­tive source of pro­tein and phe­no­lic iso­lates.

The Pro-Enrich project is seek­ing to turn byprod­ucts cre­ated by the pro­duc­tion of rape­seed meal, olives, toma­toes and cit­rus fruit into these two iso­lates, which can be used instead of petro­leum-based prod­ucts in a range of every­day goods.

The whole idea of the project is to cre­ate a value chain.- Matthew Schwarzkopf

The whole idea is to replace fos­sil-based sources of phe­no­lics and also cre­ate pro­teins that are com­ing from Europe rather than being imported from some­where else,” Matthew Schwarzkopf, a pro­fes­sor at the University of Primorska in Slovenia who is work­ing on the project, told Olive Oil Times.

The pro­tein and phe­no­lic iso­lates can be used in a range of prod­ucts from pet food and indus­trial resins to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and cos­met­ics.

See Also:Olive Oil Research

So far, Pro-Enrich, which is part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and inno­va­tion pro­gram and has received fund­ing from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking, has man­aged to cre­ate pro­tein replace­ments from the pro­duc­tion of rape­seed meal. These pro­tein replace­ments already have been used to make pet food and adhe­sives for a wood panel pro­duc­tion com­pany.

The group will not begin using byprod­ucts from the pro­duc­tion of olive oil in these types of processes until the 2019 har­vest sea­son begins in Slovenia. However, Schwarzkopf has already been to a local mill in Slovene Istria and gath­ered 200 liters of olive pomace and waste­water to be frozen and processed later in Denmark.

I went to some olive mills and all of this waste mate­r­ial is really nasty, pol­luted and toxic,” he said. But the stuff that makes it toxic is good for other things.”

These two byprod­ucts will be bro­ken down using enzy­matic degra­da­tion, which is done with microor­gan­isms, before being sep­a­rated and then fil­tered.

They [the research team in Denmark] use an enzy­matic degra­da­tion of the waste mate­r­ial and this breaks down the cell walls of the olives and the pits,” Schwarzkopf said. This helps when they do the wet extrac­tion.”

Then they cen­trifuge every­thing to sep­a­rate the com­po­nents and do an ultra-fil­tra­tion,” he added. This gives you exactly the mol­e­c­u­lar weights you are look­ing for, which helps you to iso­late the phe­nols and pro­teins.”

On top of the var­i­ous envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits that the project is seek­ing to have, Schwarzkopf also said that olive farm­ers and oil pro­duc­ers may stand to ben­e­fit finan­cially too.

The whole idea of the project is to cre­ate a value chain,” Schwarzkopf said.

In the future, olive farm­ers may be able to sell their waste­water and olive pomace directly to com­pa­nies that will then bio-refine them into any one of the afore­men­tioned prod­ucts.

Currently, olive oil pro­duc­ers dump their waste­water, which is not toxic, into the sewer and either pay some­one to remove the olive pomace or com­post it to be used as fer­til­izer later on. Pomace can­not be used as a fer­til­izer right away due to its high lev­els of acid­ity, which require time and effort to oxi­dize in a com­post pile.

If they get any money from this mate­r­ial, it is a ben­e­fit for them,” Schwarzkopf said. At the very least, we come and take it and they don’t have to pay to get rid of it because it is con­sid­ered a waste mate­r­ial.”

At the moment, the project has only worked on pro­cess­ing 500 liters of agri­cul­tural residues at a time and once the ini­tial exper­i­men­ta­tion phase is over, they plan to scale up. If all goes accord­ing to plan, Pro-Enrich hopes to expand this project out­side of Slovenia to larger olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries.

The team is already work­ing with a large mill in Spain, which Schwarzkopf said is ideal because larger amounts of olive pomace and waste­water are con­cen­trated in one place. This would help to make the logis­tics of gath­er­ing and trans­port­ing these byprod­ucts eas­ier for actual com­pa­nies, which will even­tu­ally replace Pro-Enrich as the ones refin­ing the pomace and waste­water.

I like this kind of project because it has so many indus­trial part­ners who are lead­ing the direc­tion of the research, which helps focus the project,” Schwarzkopf said.

In other words, work­ing with the indus­tries which will even­tu­ally pur­chase and refine these byprod­ucts increases the like­li­hood that olive farm­ers and oil pro­duc­ers will ben­e­fit finan­cially.


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