Despite this, major inefficiencies are remaining in how we leverage what is available. In Europe’s agricultural sector – the largest producer of residual biomass – around half of this is currently wasted. In addition, much that is used finds its way to low- and mid-value applications such as biofuels, biomethane, composts, animal feed, platform chemicals and polymers. In part, this is because the feedstock is challenging to upcycle to higher-value products due to its varied and variable makeup, supply fluctuations, presenting a challenge also technologically.
Certain agricultural side streams – those from olives, wineries, pomegranates, citrus fruits, chicory, pineapples, berries and onions – are rich in phenolic bioactive ingredients. Many of these bioactives possess antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties, potentially even anticancer and antiviral activities. However, their full potential has yet to be realised, due to a lack of technologies capable of preserving the complexity and functionality of these compounds in a way that is safe, sustainable and can do so in financially viable quantities.
The PHENOLEXA project aims to develop a benign, efficient and environmentally friendly biorefinery process to address this challenge. By focusing on specific agricultural waste streams that are not currently fully exploited for high-value bioactive compounds. It will use a novel biological and physical feedstock pre-treatment followed by benign extraction using novel green solvents and subcritical water, maximising efficiency and preserving the desired qualities of the polyphenols. The ultimate goal is to see these used in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products.