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Integrated cascades of PROcesses for the extraction and valorisation of proteins and bioactive molecules from Legumes, Fungi and Coffee agro-industrial side streams

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - Prolific (Integrated cascades of PROcesses for the extraction and valorisation of proteins and bioactive molecules from Legumes, Fungi and Coffee agro-industrial side streams)

Reporting period: 2021-09-01 to 2022-10-31

Globally, 1.3 billion tons of biomass per year end up as co-products, residues and waste along the food chain. Agro-industrial side-streams and food production by-products may represent rich sources of valuable ingredients that can be tapped by innovative biorefinery processes.
The PROLIFIC project developed cascading processes to recover proteins, polyphenols and other value-added compounds from agro-industrial residues of legumes, fungi and coffee. Extraction processes starting from wasted seeds of peas, green beans and chickpeas, leftovers of different fungi species, coffee silver skin and non- compliant coffee green beans were tested, optimized, validated and scaled up.
The project objectives were
• To map the availability and sustainability of the legumes, fungi and coffee residues feedstocks as a basis for business prospects;
• To establish cascaded and fully-scalable biorefinery extraction protocols for isolating proteins and other bioactive compounds from agro-industrial plant residues;
• To convert, where needed, extracted fractions into tailored ingredients
• To prove the suitability of extracts as ingredients or additives in the food, cosmetic, packaging and feed products from a technical and legal perspective
• To prototype products and confirm desired specifications;
• To assess the environmental and economic benefits and burden of the newly developed processes and cascades
In this ambition PROLIFIC succeeded to contemplate promising valorisation routes
• For legumes (especially chickpeas and peas) via protein extraction and its use in food products.
• For coffee green beans via subcritical water extraction of phenolic compounds and their use in food, feed, cosmetic and packaging
• For fungi via alkaline extraction of chitosan and its use in toothpaste or coated film packaging.
PROLIFIC partners have produced and validated 18 product prototypes (and variants thereof) for the various sectors. Partners from end-user companies evaluate most of them to have realistic market potential in the short/medium term, provided that PROLIFIC extracts can be obtained in sufficient amounts.
Life-cycle analysis of extraction processes identified hotspots and leverage points for improving their environmental and economic performance. Profitability of feedstock utilisation (extraction and inclusion of extracts in products) was assessed by cost-benefit analysis finding that valorisation of all obtained fractions (main compound and residues) is key for a competitive implementation.
The concept of PROLIFIC project is illustrated in Figure 1.
PROLIFIC analysed the availability, geographical origin, seasonality, quality, safety and sustainability of the selected legume, fungi and coffee feedstocks. The biggest potential can be tapped in the legumes sector with cultivation in many EU countries.
Partners developed and optimised feedstock specific cascades of extraction processes recovering proteins and other non-protein compounds. Different protein extraction protocols using environmentally friendly aqueous extraction (EFAE), enzymatic-assisted (EAE) or ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE) were tested for each type of residue. Protein fractions were characterised for their nutritional value and functional properties. Additional (cascading) extraction steps could isolate polyphenols, carotenoids, b-glucans, chitosan and caffeine from protein extraction residues as well as from initial feedstocks. The most efficient processes in terms of mass yield and purity were scaled-up in a small pilot or pre-industrial environment:
• proteins from legumes (both EFAE and EAE),
• coffee polyphenols (with sub-critical water extraction or UAE),
• chitosan from fungi (alkaline method)
Throughout the project, initial feedstocks, extracts and prototypes were fully characterised for their chemical, safety, bioactivity, technical and functional characteristics. They largely complied with sectoral legislation as concerns safety. No major barriers for their further use were identified. The functional properties were confirmed in comprehensive trials. New product formulations were demonstrated in semi-industrial scale for the following prototypes:
• Protein-enriched bread, pasta, flakes and vegan burger patties containing > 20% protein extracts from legume residues
• hamburgers and cured sausages containing coffee polyphenols as antioxidant replacing nitrite or ascorbic acid
• anti-microbial toothpaste with fungi chitosan;
• anti-age/whitening creams including coffee polyphenols.
• Utilisation of fibrous legume residues after protein extraction in composites formulations for rigid jars for cosmetic products
• Coffee capsule bodies from biodegradable, compostable polymers including coffee silver skin or complemented with coffee polyphenols for antioxidant properties
• antimicrobial flexible coating for meat products including fungi chitosan.
FEED: pig feed formulations amended with coffee polyphenols or coffee solid extraction residues of antioxidant or pre-biotic properties
PROLIFIC generated 15 key exploitable results: five extraction protocols and related fractions used as ingredients in ten different types of prototypes. An exploitation plan was compiled outlining an exploitation roadmap to bring the results to market. The owner of the optimised extraction protocols intend to exploit them by patent application (under investigation), trade secret or contract manufacturing services. The project findings opened new business perspective for the producer of biomass streams, though feedstock stabilisation and supply remain a challenge to be solved.
PROLIFIC has developed a consistent project identity (logo, flyer, website) as frame for all dissemination activities. Project results and product prototypes were presented on various events, such as the BBI Stakeholder Forum Projects Day, Science is Wonderful Event, Researchers' Night, > 20 international conferences or workshops (e.g. RRB 2022 with a dedicated PROLIFIC session) various sectoral fairs and even the Italian TV. Results were published in nine peer-reviewed scientific papers with additional five under preparation.
Addressing industry, policy and the research community PROLIFIC organized a dedicated workshop on “Residual Biomasses for Eco-compatible and Sustainable Food Packaging” and a final event highlighting the project outcome on the "Valorisation routes for agro-industrial side-streams".
Transforming biomass side-stream into visual and gustative products appreciated by the consumers is an attractive and convincing way to raise the awareness for the benefits of deploying untapped biomass in the consumer or industrial sector. Overall PROLIFIC managed to:
• demonstrated novel processes for the extraction of protein and other active compounds from legume, coffee and fungi biomass
• provide alternative or complementary ingredients and additives to the cosmetic, food, feed and materials industry sectors
• contribute to meet the increasing consumer’s demand for vegan, vegetarian and highly nutritional food products
• offer bio-based, active and biodegradable molecules and polymers for polymer and composite material formulations to the packaging sector (food and cosmetic sectors)
• produce new formulation of functional feed products aiming at improving animal health
• enlarge the range of bio-based ingredients for innovative cosmetic products
PROLIFIC Project concept