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An integrated biorefinery for the conversion of dairy side streams to high value bio-based chemicals

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AgriChemWhey (An integrated biorefinery for the conversion of dairy side streams to high value bio-based chemicals)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

The European dairy industry processes millions of tonnes of whey annually to produce whey proteins for human and animal nutrition, lactose, and whey powders. Whey permeate and Delactosed whey permeate are major side-streams of dairy processing and represent a key challenge for the dairy industry due to a lack of reliability in current disposal routes. The AgriChemWhey project will integrate industrial circularity by taking these low value by-products from the dairy processing industry and converting them into several added value products for growing global markets including lactic acid, polylactic acid, minerals for human nutrition and bio-based fertilizer. The new technology used for the AgriChemWhey process will provide both the dairy industry and wider society with an opportunity for greater resource efficiency.

AgriChemWhey overall objective is to build a first-of-a-kind industrial-scale and economically successful biorefinery with integrated symbiotic industrial and agricultural value chains to valorise dairy waste, and thus specifically to:

• Optimise and scale-up process biorefinery technologies
• Establish a new dairy processing by-products to high value-added products value chain
• Establish industrial symbiosis with local partners to valorise side streams arising from the biorefinery process
• Ensure techno-economic viability and successful long-term commercial operation of the biorefinery
• Develop a blueprint for replication of the AgriChemWhey model in other regions across Europe

AgriChemWhey represents a significant step change in current whey processing techniques and industrial symbiosis that inspires the creation of new value chains. It will underpin the growth of a more sustainable European dairy industry through innovation and knowledge exchange, serving as a model for sustainable growth in dairy output in the EU and globally. AgriChemWhey has the potential for replication in other regions across Europe, contributing towards the development of the European bio-economy to promote rural growth, competitiveness and job creation and aligning with European sustainability targets.
Since the beginning of the AgriChemWhey project numerous milestones have been achieved, especially in relation to process integration, optimisation and scale-up. The highlights and achievements include all aspects of the project and are presented below:

• Successful installation and commissioning of the pilot plant using whey permeate and delactosed permeate waste streams as the carbon feedstocks of interest.
• Construction, installation and setup of an analytical laboratory with complex instrumentation suitable for detailed physicochemical analysis of various sample types.
• A fermentation specific laboratory was installed to allow for sterile and non-sterile fermentation experimentation to be carried out.
• Construction, installation and setup of a microbiology laboratory lab suitable for intricate practical work tasks such as bacterial propagation, chemically defined media preparation and bacterial enumeration.
• Validation of the upstream demineralisation process using multiple whey permeate streams.
• Cutting-edge optimisation of the upstream demineralisation process was completed to achieve the highest demineralisation rates for various feedstock types.
• Comprehensive datasets generated for the fermentative performance of several production strains on dairy whey waste material.
• Cost-benefit analysis completed to determine the most cost-effective and efficient fermentation process design suitable for industrial scale operations.
• Pilot scale validation of the fermentation process using both WP and DLP as a substrate successfully completed with multiple replicates.
• Setup and integration of the downstream purification process to purify the lactic acid fermentation broth to generate a high quality demineralised dilute lactic acid product.
• Laboratory and pilot-scale production of high quality L-lactic acid.
• Pilot-scale production of high quality polymer grade LA and the subsequent production of 4kg of polylactide derived from our dairy waste stream valorisation platform.
• Detailed technical simulations and modelling of the chemical process to upscale this novel 2nd generation dairy waste stream valorisation platform to commercial scale operations.
• Detailed engineering works have been completed on the 20,000mt LA production capacity industrial scale plant.
• Integrated life cycle assessment modelling for both pilot-scale and industrial scale ongoing to calculate the potential environmental impact of this valorisation platform in terms of emissions, resource consumption and industrial symbiosis.
• Active collaboration of AgriChemWhey with the Bioeconomy sector to represent and promote the project at different conferences, events and workshops.
• Consistent consortium meetings remain to update all consortium partners on the progression of the project, discuss results obtained by the partners and to determine next steps.
This project is exploring how to convert undervalued dairy side-streams and will involve the development of a new state-of-the-art, flagship bio-refinery with a world-first process for converting low value side-streams from the dairy industry into high value bio-based products including biodegradable plastics. AgriChemWhey will investigate the techno-economic viability of such innovative whey residues-to-lactic acid biorefinery technology and will establish a new value chain for industrial symbiosis with other local companies for the production of high-value sustainable food and feed products from other side streams, as an enhanced circular bioeconomy approach to agriculture and agri-food waste.
Expected results and Potential Impacts:
• Rural community development through rural job creation, new partnerships and business opportunities across the region
• Circular bioeconomy approach for the dairy industry
• Establishing industrial symbiosis with local partners to valorise side streams
• Establishment of a new dairy processing by-products to high value-added products value chain
• The exploitation of a readily available second generation resource for the production of a high value chemical which is used as a food and feed ingredient and as a building block for biodegradable polymer PLA.
• Positive impact on EU trade balance through greater resource efficiency resulting in the reduction of EU LA imports and the potential to turn Europe into a net exporter of LA.
• AgriChemWhey will also partner with Model Demonstrator Regions for sustainable chemicals in South East Ireland (Tipperary County Council) and Wallonia Belgium (GreenWin) to look at policy development for market uptake of bio-based products with a focus on
AgriChemWhey products to accelerate the route to market. AgriChemWhey will serve as a flagship for Europe’s growing bioeconomy, contributing towards a more resource efficient European dairy sector with enormous replication potential in other rural areas across Europe. By developing a blueprint for this economic sustainability concept and replication plans for other regions across Europe, this will maximise both short- and long-term impacts, contributing towards the development of the European bioeconomy
Sustainable Dairy Bioeconomy