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Executive Summary:
The goal of FUNKIFIBRE project was to valorise a cereal waste stream by extracting high value components able to enhance key properties in packaging materials. For this propose, existing scientific and technical research on the extraction of microfibrillated cellulose (MFC), and its chemical modification and inclusion into diverse polymeric matrices, has been further investigated and implemented for FUNKIFIBRE’s specific raw material, oat husks. During this project, the implementation of MFC extraction, chemical modification, and composites production has been up-scaled from laboratory facilities to industrial relevant operational environments.
The MFC isolation process from oat waste has been optimized. It is demonstrated that it was possible to isolate a cellulose rich fraction that was subsequently pre-treated and fibrillated by mechanical shear forces until a suspension of MFC was produced. The isolation process was successfully up-scaled to produce large amounts of MFC. The environmental and economic costs of MFC production from oat waste were calculated. The main contributions to the environmental impact in MFC production is its high energy consumption. Because of the country-specific electricity mixes of the different countries considered in the study, the production of oat MFC in France was found to have the lowest environmental impact. The economic cost for the production of bleached oat MFC is very reasonable, considering that this cost is about 4 – 5 % of current MFC’s commercial price.
Chemical modification of MFC towards enhanced compatibility with hydrophobic polymeric matrices have been successfully performed onto oat MFC. A wide variety of chemical modifications were performed onto the cellulosic surfaces. The most promising modifications, organic solvent free modifications which led to hydrophobized MFC, were successfully up-scaled. MFC chemical modifications performed were found to have small impacts on the environmental impact of the resulting microfibrils. Even though the modification increased the cost of the microfibrils, this is still very low, this is 7 – 9 % of the commercial price for MFC.
Chemically modified MFC was used for the production of composites using two different polymeric matrices. Polypropylene (PP), a traditional packaging material, was chosen as a representative polymer matrix, while polylactide (PLA), a biobased and biodegradable polymer, was chosen as a representative polymer matrix for biobased polymers currently used for packaging applications. New composite materials were produced using melt compounding with the polymeric matrix. The resulting composites were then processed into 3D packages. Jars for cosmetic application were successfully produced by injection moulding using PP composites containing low percentage of modified MFC. The addition of chemically modified MFC into the PP matrix led to a 29% improvement in strength to failure of the final 3D packages compared to the same packages produced with neat PP. These packages were also certified as a food contact material according to the most restrictive regulation for their intended use, i.e. long term storage at room temperature of food or cosmetics. The PP composite jars containing chemically modified MFC comply with both, overall migration limit, and specific migration limit for the MFC’s modifier. PLA composites exhibited good processability and properties at laboratory and pilot scale. Nowadays PLA composites have to been optimized to be processed by injection stretch blow moulding at industrial scale.
In conclusion, during FUNKIFIBRE project new processes and materials have been successfully developed. A food by-product, oat husks, has been implemented as a new source for the industrial production of MFC. Oat MFC has been chemically modified using environmentally friendly processes, resulting in hydrophobized MFC with enhanced compatibility with hydrophobic polymer matrices. The resulting composite materials have shown promising results has packaging materials, leading to 3D packages with improved properties compared to the same packages produced with the neat polymeric matrix.

Project Context and Objectives:
Food processing is still the cause of an unavoidably great amount of different types of wastes and by-products unfit for human consumption and without any valuable valorisation. Approximately one third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost and wasted every year, which is about 1.3 billion tonnes per year. In Europe, the amount per capita of food loss is around 280-300 kg/year, while food waste generated by consumers represents 95-115 kg/year per capita. The result is an exorbitant quantity that includes different types of waste products mainly generated during the overall food chain processes, such as biomass.
The global cereal market production represents the major food production sector followed by the fruit and vegetable. The total cereal production in Europe is about 300-400 Mt per year. Oat cereal represents about 8 Mt of the total. As a consequence of representing the major food production in Europe, the cereal sector generates a high volume of biomass that is lost and wasted along the food supply chain. Thus, approximately 35% of the overall production of the European cereal sector is lost or wasted (this means over 140 million tonnes of biomass and several hundred million euros lost in the waste management yearly). The generation of cereal losses and wastes at manufacturing and consumer levels has negative impacts in the economies of the food processing SMEs and also at environmental and social levels. Therefore, food processing SMEs have become drivers towards finding solutions to reduce and give added value to the food by-products/wastes. Currently, cereal SMEs utilize the wastes generated during their processes to produce energy. They also sell these wastes at a very low price to be used as animal feed. These solutions are just addressing the issue of the disposal of these wastes, and not creating high added value products from it.
FUNKIFIBRE Consortium noticed the necessity of creating value from a big cereal waste stream.

In this sense, FUNKIFIBRE raw material’s producer, FLAHAVANS obtains over 30% of cereal waste (about 5,100 tonnes yearly) from the processing of oat-based food products such as Irish porridge. About one third of the oat waste is used for energy recovery and steam production, fulfilling all the steam requirements of their mill. As a fuel source, the value of the oat waste it around €200 per tonne, this corresponds to a return of 340,000 €/year. However, there is only a limited amount of steam required and the remaining two thirds (3,400 tonnes/year) are currently used as animal feed ingredient, with a small return of 136,000 €/year. The valorisation of oat waste as animal feed represents less than the 0.08% of the annual turnover of FLAHAVANS. FUNKIFIBRE consortium detected that the extraction of cellulose based components from cereal waste is an upcoming commercial opportunity. In this sense, although wood is certainly the most important industrial source of cellulosic fibres, fibres from crops, and especially from by-products of different annual plants such as cereals, are likely to become of increasing interest.

Together with the need to valorise cereal waste, it also exists another European and world problem, which is the necessity of reducing packaging waste. Plastic is by far the most used material in packaging in Europe and around the world with over 60% of market share. In Europe, the plastic packaging market represents €38 billion annually. Plastic packaging consumption in Europe, currently derived from petroleum sources, represents over 18 million tonnes. In parallel, the generated domestic plastic packaging waste represents more than 15 million tons in the whole Europe according to EUROSTAT.

Despite the fact that a large volume of packaging is recycled, there is still more than 5 million tonnes of plastic packaging that are landfilled in Europe every year. This is especially the case for multilayer packaging structures for which it is almost impracticable and frequently uneconomical to recycle and recover. Europeans (including politics, citizens, industry…) are aware of the need to reduce packaging waste and landfill. In this sense, EU seeks to harmonize national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste to provide a high level of environmental protection and ensure the functioning of the internal market through the Directive 94/62/EC. Therefore, the packaging industry is focusing its research into innovate packaging and its eco-conception to reduce packaging weight. Furthermore, the use of biobased and biodegradable polymers as an alternative to conventional fossil based plastics is increasing year by year (at a rate around 20% annually) driven by a growing demand for sustainable solutions, unstable price of fossil materials, and the increasing dependence on fossil resources. Thus, the plastic packaging SMEs involved in the project, ELASTOPOLI and ALMUPLAS, are aware of the new these challenges and of the need to move towards innovative sustainable packaging solutions to remain competitive in the new market framework.

FUNKIFIBRE consortium identified two key needs: the reduction of both cereal and packaging wastes. Both streams impact negatively at economic, environmental and societal levels. FUNKIFIBRE project proposed technological solutions acting in the oat cereal waste and acting in the development of new sustainable packaging plastics. The innovation proposed by FUNKIFIBRE was to obtain key fibres from oat waste to be used as reinforcement in plastic packaging materials, creating more efficient and sustainable packaging materials.

The main objective of FUNKIFIBRE project was to valorise cereal waste streams by extracting precious components able to enhance key packaging material properties such as mechanical and barrier properties. The approach to fulfil this objective and to implement it in the SMEs is based on scientific and technological research on the extraction of microfibrillated cellulose (MFC), its chemical modification and its inclusion in diverse polymeric matrices.

Project Results:
Description of work performed and main results
The work performed during the second period of FUNKIFIBRE project has been based on the production of MFC and its chemical modification performed in the first period of the project following WP1. Thereafter, in WP2 MFC was successfully modified to enhance its compatibility and dispersibility with polymeric matrices. In WP3, the production and modification of MFC were up-scaled. In WP4 the production of polypropylene (PP) and polylactic acid (PLA) based composites containing MFC was studied, optimized, and up-scaled. In WP5, 3D packages were produced at pilot and industrial scale and characterized. In WP6, the final 3D packages were validated for their intended final use. Furthermore, in WP7 the IPR and exploitation strategy for the project’s outcomes have been established. Moreover, also in WP7, the activities and some of the results produced during the project have been disseminated.

WP2- “MFC chemical modification”
During the second period of WP2, the modification routes which were initially developed in the first period of the project, and reported in Deliverable 2.1 and in the First term report, were further evaluated, developed and optimized. Thus, several routes for the modification of MFC were extensively reported on Deliverable 2.2, including different acylation (using alkyl anhydrides or using AKD/ASA) and silylation (using commercial aliphatic C18 silanes or using APTES). These modifications were successfully performed on the oat-based MFC. Characterizations revealed that these modifications resulted in a decrease of MFC’s hydrophilicity, leading to microfibres with enhanced compatibility with hydrophobic polymeric matrices. These data and results issued from WP2 were used in WP3 to evaluate the economic and environmental impact of these modifications. Additionally, the most promising modifications were selected to prepare composites which were evaluated prior to up-scaling the production of the most promising modified-MFC.
WP3- “Up-scaling of the cellulose microfibrillation and modification processes”
Activities in WP3 focused on the up-scaling of the new processes developed in WP1 and WP2, and on the analysis of their corresponding economic costs and environmental impacts. The production of MFC from oat waste (oat husks) has been optimized and implemented at industrial level. The chemical modification of MFC has been also optimized and implemented at industrial scale. The environmental impacts and economic costs of both processes have been also respectively evaluated and calculated. Corresponding information and data were reported in Deliverable 3.1. and 3.2.

WP4- “Research on MFC based composites with polymeric matrices”
The evaluation of processing parameters for the newly developed fibre based composites and of their final properties was firstly performed and summarized in Deliverable 4.1. Both, composites’ processing parameters and material properties were evaluated using modified birch MFC as MFC model (described in WP2), and with PP and PLA as polymer matrices. Composites were obtained at laboratory scale. Melt mixing processing was optimized, ensuring good properties of the generated/processed composite materials. The relation between MFC content and final composite’s properties was studied.
Once all these issues had been investigated, the production of composites using modified MFC from oat husks was investigated at pilot scale. As reported in Deliverable 4.2, AKD and APTES-modified oat husks composites were produced at pilot scale and characterized. Unexpectedly, materials produced using Elastopoli’s process lead to inhomogeneous materials. Therefore, the final composites were produced by direct compounding using spray-dried chemically modified APTES-MFC.

WP5- “Development of 3D packages”
Based on the materials developed in WP4, in WP5 the final FUNKIFIBRE’s demonstrators were produced. Thus, PLA and PP composites containing APTES-modified MFC were produced and processed at industrial scale, resulting in two final demonstrators, a PP-based jar for cosmetic applications, and a PLA bottle for food applications. These 3D packages were produced at Almuplas’ facilities and characterized at ITENE’s facilities.

WP6- “Validation of the performance of the final 3D packages”
The final 3D packages produced in WP5 were validated in packaging trials. These final 3D packages were tested according to Spanish regulations. Free fall tests, random vertical vibration tests and compression tests were performed. The most remarkable result in the validation test was a 30% improvement in compression tests for the cosmetic jar containing 2% of APTES-modified MFC compared to the neat PP control jar.

WP7- “IPR, exploitation, and dissemination”
The objective of this WP was to describe and to accomplish dissemination activities and to manage the potential exploitable foreground generated within the project. This was accomplished through the diffusion of project activities, and the evaluation of potentially protectable results arising from the project.

Potential Impact:
FUNKIFIBRE final results are:
Green modification processes for the modification of MFC with low environmental impacts.
Successful upscaling of laboratory/pilot scaled processes to industrial scale.
Optimized compounding processing parameters for the incorporate of chemically modified MFC into polymeric matrices.
Development of sustainable composite materials with optimal mechanical, thermal and barrier properties for packaging applications.
Development of commercially viable 3D packages by injection and injection blowing processing techniques which fulfil food contact material requirements.
We have been evaluating the impacts that FUNKIFIBRE project results will have on Europe:
Economic: The use of the oat cereal waste to develop new cellulose reinforcements and new sustainable packaging will promote SMEs to compete for a new and obvious market potential. SMEs will be able to improve the efficiency of their core business by reducing the environmental impact. The outcome of the project will be followed by introduction of new range of products combining new cellulose additives from different sources and new packaging concepts more environmental and with improving polymer properties.
Political: contribution to the Lead Market Initiative (LME), launched by the European Commission in 2006 in order to bring new products or services onto the market. There are six important markets included in this initiative, one of them being the biobased products, and a strong interest to find out where bio-based products can substitute products based on other raw materials.
Environmental: And in terms of sustainability, this package will be more neutral in terms of greenhouse gas and will leave a smaller ecological footprint, i.e. generate less waste, and use less energy and water.
Societal: Oat waste and in general cereal waste together with plastic packaging wastes are a big societal problem, at this point legislation and environmental awareness play and important role. In this project the use of wastes to develop new products and the development of biobased packaging will contribute to the enhancement of awareness in consumers about the use and abuse of packaging materials. It will influence and promote to buy cosmetic and food products packaged in a more sustainable and environmentally responsible way.

List of Websites:

Relevant contact details:

Project manager: Markku Nikkilä: Managing Director, ELASTOPOLI, Finland. email contact:
Technical manager: Miriam Gallur Blanca. New Advanced Materials Research Line Manager. ITENE: Packaging, transport and logistics research institute, Spain. email contact:

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