This proposal aims to develop an integral re-exploitation of the tomato fruit peels from processing tomato industries. In particular, the project is focus on the bio-mimicry of the plant cuticle, in order to obtain bioplastics with commercial purposes. Tomato fruits were chosen for, first, their high proportion of cuticular components, second, the inexpensive price of their peel, and, third, the high industrial volume of work (European tomato processing industry processed 11,380,100 tonnes of raw tomatoes in 2004).
The plant cuticle is an essential component of terrestrial plant life, providing protection against the dehydrating atmosphere. The cuticle has been modified and refined in various plant lineages to fill an impressive range of multi-functional purposes and interesting properties (e.g. it is hydrophobic, viscoelastic, moderately flexible, chemically inert and has high values of specific heat and good mechanical properties). This is the result of the combination of their main components: polysaccharides and the long-chain polyester cutin.
The aim in this proposal is the exploitation of these biopolymers from tomato fruit peel residues to bio-mimic the plant cuticle, producing plant cuticle-like plastics. For this, initially, the combination and reactivity of model substances (commercial cutin monomer and cellulose) will be studied, characterizing the resultant products. Subsequently, the properties will be improved and adapted to industrial necessities. The second stage of the project will be the integral refinery of the tomato peel residues and the production of bioplastics from the natural components. Likewise, the properties of these bioplastics will be tailored.
This proposal is novel because no previous studies have developed a strategy to bio-mimic the plant cuticles, and timely because, in times of economic crisis, of the opportunity of revaluing the inexpensive tomato residues into bioplastics with added value.
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