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Valorisation of mushroom agrowastes to obtain high value products

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - FUNGUSCHAIN (Valorisation of mushroom agrowastes to obtain high value products)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-04-30

The European Union produces large amounts of agricultural by-products, much of which is still treated as waste or for low value applications. Mushroom farming is no exception and the FUNGUSCHAIN project was set up to radically change this situation. It has been designed to have a strong impact on the joint BBI aim in propelling a bio-based, circular economy in Europe. FUNGUSCHAIN will boost innovation on agricultural waste management and has one overarching objective: To enable the cost-effective extraction of diverse high-value components from mushroom agro-waste at industrial level to create new bio-based products, further specified in three main objectives:

1. Demonstration of an integrated cascading approach process with more than 40% valorisation of mushroom cultivation residues into high-value bio-based products.

2. Industrial validation and demonstration of the extracted biomolecules into high value products.

3. Improvement of the competitiveness of European enterprises and the acceptance of the developed products, with particular interest in local entrepreneurship and the development of rural areas.
To reach the first main objective, we originally aimed at the extraction of all valuable active molecules in a sequential cascading process for the isolation of target biomolecules (5 types: antioxidants, antimicrobials, lipids, proteins and polysaccharides) obtained from mushroom wastes in a cascading approach to valorise all side stream components and to achieve their integral exploitation. An integrated cascading process has been set up that matches the aims and targeted intermediate products. Since in an initial version of the cascade the economics, and to a lesser extent the environmental (energy consumption) impact were unfavourable for a significant part of the cascade, a modified version has been scaled up and demonstrated to be viable at an industrial level. Novel cascade procedures focused on cost-effectiveness generating relatively crude intermediates, with favourable environmental- and safety profiles, assuring scalability and circular local deployment. Initial, upstream cascading steps (high value protein enriched mushroom powders, flavouring extract, and downstream cascading intermediates have favourable commercial perspectives, particularly in food- and cosmetics products as well as specialized plastics, in particular biodegradable mulch- and protective films with circular agricultural applications. All together 76% up to 95% valorisation of mushroom agro-waste can be reached, depending on the specific configuration of the biorefinery. In addition, biogas production and composting can be used to utilize eventual residues.

To meet the second objective, end-users were to validate the extracted biomolecules by introducing them in selected products within their own commercial portfolio to demonstrate the functionality and improvements over the current non-bio-based counterparts. The end-products were mainly focused on additives for food, protein-enhanced powders, functional foods, industrial film and cosmetics products. The DEMO lines developed during the project enabled the production of the selected high added value additives and end-products for the initial exploitation by project partners. A technical and economic viability study for the necessary investment in building and setting up pilot-plants and modifications of current industrial lines has been carried out. Using the integrated and flexible efforts of all partners the complex cascading process and the challenge to generate profitable products have been tackled in an agile and proactive manner. This has led to a range of innovative product lines, all contributing to meeting this objective. A selection of processes and products was made and investments by Monaghan Mushrooms to generate an operational commercially attractive biorefinery, allowing the operational integrated production of multiple high value bio-based products.

FUNGUSCHAIN demonstrated that extraction of valuable biomolecules before more low value applications provides interesting options for valorisation of valuable natural products. This often can best be carried out with relatively fresh biomass present at a local and relatively small scale, promoting new innovative bio-based enterprises in rural areas. Nevertheless, there are a number of issues in the natural-products market directly related to its lack of maturity. Production is not enough in certain cases and it can heavily limit the market growth, while on the other hand underutilisation leads to accumulation of waste. This requires tailored solutions, as developed in FUNGUSCHAIN in the context of objective 3. Reintroducing agricultural residues into a circular economy by using novel methods to identify valuable ingredients and environmentally-friendly extraction procedures, that are easily scalable and deployed by SMEs and local industries characterises the FUNGUSCHAIN approach. There is a huge potential of market penetration since the number of potential applications of biomaterials obtained from agro-residues is enormous. Therefore we aimed to provide an incentive to change this situation and promote innovation and development in rural areas, also aiming (i) to improve citizen’s health; (ii) to boost the productivity of agriculture revenues and further industrial processes; (iii) to enhance environmental sustainability and safety to ensure acceptance of novel bio-based products. We have shown produced different types of bioplastics, biodegradable and recyclable ones, with different applications in a circular economy. We improved environmental impact, by avoiding chemical extraction and reducing energy needs. We designed and applied a novel rapid human cell-based safety assessment tool for complex bio-based undefined compound mixtures, showing no safety issues of cascade fractions and products tested. We have designed profitably products without waste streams, and innovative product options of which cascade residues can be used for biogas and compost production, and full circularity. To promote local entrepreneurship and further development of the rural area in the northern part of Ireland, Monaghan has invested not only in the advanced biorefinery, and in addition a very significant investment was made a novel innovation canter to further support this ambition. The location of this center will be adjacent to the biorefinery.
FUNGUSCHAIN fully met its aims, with 75-95% of fungal waste being valorized into high value products, while the remaining residues can be converted into biogas or compost. For this it designed an effective, safe, and environmentally friendly integrated cascade using scalable methods. This formed the basis of the design and establishment of the Monaghan Mushroom’s biorefinery close to a new biotechnology-based innovation center that will lead to future innovative and profitable products, as well as economic development of rural areas. Functional foods and innovative products like preservatives for 100% organic cosmetics biodegradable mulching sheets, as developed in FUNGUSCHAIN are designed to feed this ambition. In this way profitability of mushroom farming will be enhanced, creating new opportunities for rural development towards high-end knowledge intensive bio-based activities. In this way the FUNGUSCHAIN project provided a major step forward in reaching sustainability goals and agricultural innovation.