New strategies and models for commercialising innovations in the processing of agri- and food co-streams

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


A report "Waste or resource?-stimulating the bioeconomy", published in March 2014 by the House of Lords Science and Technology select committee, highlighted the level of waste generated in the UK and the potential to exploit this for the generation of high value products. BBSRC funded research at The University of Nottingham over the past five years has been looking at the technical barriers behind the conversion of agricultural residues (such as wheat straw) into fuels such as ethanol. This research has developed a range of techniques to handle waste biomass streams and highlighted the need to generate higher value products in addition to energy. This has been accompanied by research, funded by Innovate UK, into alternate waste streams and products. This fundamental research has identified a number of potential high value products from a range of waste streams arising from the food industry. It has also developed techniques to extract, purify and concentrate these products. Overcoming these technical barriers to the exploitation of waste is only the first step in the process. Commercial implementation is subject to another range of barriers such as capital costs to establish the process; cost effectiveness of the process; considerations of intellectual property and potential disruption to the current operations.
This FLIP application is to allow a research fellow, who has been primarily responsible for this basic research at Nottingham, to spend a period of 18 months with New Food Innovation Ltd (NFI). NFI is a small company that provides a conduit and consultation role for the introduction of novel products and processes into the food industry. The company has an extensive network of contacts within the industry and has expertise in all areas related to the commercial exploitation of research. The company will provide the fellow with training in aspects of commercial exploitation. At the same time the fellow will develop business plans for those waste streams and products that have been identified from the preliminary research. These include the extraction and purification of proteins from potato waste and brewers spent grain that may have functionality in structuring foods. Another example is the preparation of pulp material from fruit waste that may have functionality in food structuring due to its high water retention properties. A small part of the placement will include the fellow visiting other research groups (at Nottingham and elsewhere) to help identify other potential waste streams and products.
This FLIP will deliver a range of benefits to the interchanger and the partners. The interchanger, who is already skilled in the technical aspects of the research, will receive training and gain an appreciation of the equally important commercial barriers and how they may be assessed and crossed. This will benefit and inform their future research activities. Nottingham University, and the PI in particular, will be able to explore potential "pipelines to exploitation" for the existing research portfolio that it has accumulated and, along with other institution, identify other areas of investigation. NFI will have access to new technologies and products that they can assess and as appropriate help transfer these into the relevant industry.

Technical Summary

Not applicable general summary covers this

Planned Impact

The proposal for interchange occurs at a time when there is growing interest in the reuse and valorisation of agri-food process waste. Recently the BBSRC have set up several relevant Networks (NIBBs) in this area, with which the School of Biosciences has associations, namely- FoodWasteNet, Integrated Plant to Product technologies and High Value Chemicals from Plants. The interchanger will use these and other industry platforms both as a learning and knowledge gathering opportunity, for dissemination of results from the FLIP scheme, and also for networking with industry and commercial organisations. The rapid development of interest in waste valorisation means that opportunities exist for companies to establish an early market position and to secure new intellectual property for commercial advantage. The scheme therefore is proposed at a timely moment where current and proposed initiatives at New Food Innovation and the University can be speedily brought forward. The need for effective organisation at the interface between the university research sector and the commercial innovation sector has been highlighted by the BBSRC as part of the NIBB strategy and the BBSRC strategy on Reducing Waste in the Food Chain. The aims and objectives for the proposed scheme are fully consistent with these strategies and wider Government strategies as highlighted in the House of Lords report "Waste or Resource?: Stimulating a Bioeconomy" (March 2014).

The scheme will complement and enhance existing relationships between Nottingham University, NFI and external companies, allowing further opportunities for knowledge transfer and the valorisation of university intellectual property. The scheme is ideally positioned to impact on the University of Nottingham strategic vision, as highlighted in the recently published Food and Drink Capability Statement. The scheduled time spent by the interchanger in the university will enable proposals for new exploratory of pump-priming funding to be progressed in the biorefining/ biotechnology / biomaterials areas, managed by the interchanger and academic colleagues. This will lead to longer term research in the School and beyond and a strengthening of the research base.

The partner organisation will gain from the increased staff resource devoted to these exciting opportunities for innovation in the food-agri sector. The scheme will allow increased focus on the needs and interests of the client base in this industry sector and the extension of relationships with the university. The knowledge and experience gained by the Interchanger will be assimilated by the NFI team and will strengthen the position of the company in the biorefining and food-waste area, valuable for consultancy and technology transfer activities. New models for commercialisation of processes for valorisation of food waste will be embedded as development tools for the company, which will be replicated in different commercial scenarios within the wider industry.

The reduction of waste in the agri and food-processing industries is recognised as a key strategic objective for the UK economy. More than 20% of usable food-agri materials may be diverted during processing (, which represents a large underutilised resource, both in terms of food security and also lost value to the industry sector and to other down-stream sectors. The UK legislative framework (EU Waste Framework directive) is also directing businesses away from disposal of waste to landfill and towards more sustainable operation of processes and recycling of materials. The development and replication of new strategies for bio-refinery processes will therefore directly help the agri-food sector to move in the direction of a bio-based economy and will also provide momentum in other business sectors to move towards more sustainable operations with lower environmental impact.


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Description The purpose of this FLIP award was to support an academic to undertake training in techno-economic analysis and to apply this to a range of potential products arising from waste streams primarily from within the food industry. To this end the fellow was seconded to a Food Innovation company. During the grant the fellow interacted with a large number of companies- Rematix Inc (USA);Branston Ltd;Bakkavor PLC;Marlow Foods Ltd (Quorn);Royal Foods Ltd;Chingford Fruit Ltd;GreenPea Company;Molson Coors PLC;IGC Gmbh;William Jackson Food Group PLC;Algaecytes Ltd;Campden BRI;BEACON (University of Aberystwyth);Axium Process Ltd and AB Argi Ltd. Particularly productive interactions included: (a) Interaction with Renmatix Inc through a summer internship, which led to identification of exciting new uses for a micro-spherical cellulosic material as a food ingredient, and also to a new process methodology not previously known by the company. The student had the opportunity to visit the company's US headquarters to present results.

(b) Interaction with Branston Ltd led to the successful completion of a pilot-scale trial, at 1m3 scale, for the multi-step separation and isolation of protein from potato juice. As part of this trial interactions also took place with Axium Process, concerned with membrane technology, and BEACON at Aberystwyth, where potato juicing and juice separation were demonstrated.

(c) Interaction with Molson Coors was in support of development of a physical separation process for isolating protein from Brewers Spent grain. This was originally demonstrated at Nottingham and has subsequently been taken in-house by the company for full-scale process design and commercial justification.

(d) Interaction with GreenPea Company has led to development of a scalable process for chloroplast separation from peavine waste, which can be set up at local farm level. Further funding for nutritional analysis of products has been secured at Nottingham, leading to continued collaboration with the company.

(e) Collaboration with the William Jackson Food Group has led to the identification of valorisation opportunities for waste onion peel. Analytical work confirmed the presence of important flavour molecules, where this work also established the degradative time-limits for useful processing. Discussions have identified a commercially viable process for intervention prior to anaerobic digestion of the residue. Work has continued in-house by the company.

(f) Involvement with Royal Foods Ltd has explored opportunities for extraction of phospholipids and other valuable nutritional compounds from milk-fat residue streams. Trials were set up at the company site to explore process options, involving Axium Process. Supporting work funded through a FoodWasteNet interaction voucher at Nottingham, focussing on identification and quantification of lipid compounds in the various trial extract products.

(g) Interaction with AB Agri PLC was initiated during the FLIP exchange. The company is interested in exploring the upgrading of brewery co-streams for animal nutrition. Leading on from the FLIP a workshop has been held at the company site, attended by key staff concerned with by-product applications. This has established an on-going relationship with Nottingham. On completion of the project the fellow returned to their position as a Senior Research Fellow at Nottingham to continue interactions with industry under two grants from BESTG+F and EPSRC facilitated partly by the work undertaken in the FLIP
Exploitation Route The BESTF award following on from the FLIP is currently involved in the construction of a demonstration plant to convert municipal solid waste to chemicals and transportation fuel. This could be applied more widely. The general approach to the techno- economic analysis will be helpful in assessing the potential for new processes and products to assist in the generation of a circular economy.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description "Whole systems understanding of unavoidable food supply chain wastes for re-nutrition"
Amount £1,100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P008771/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2018
Description BESTF2
Amount £5,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department of Energy and Climate Change 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 08/2020
Description Food Waste Network Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Networking with industry through the foodwaste NIBB. Presentation "Synergism in biochemical and material processing of green waste for food applications"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description FoodWasteNet meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Food waste NIBB interaction with industry presentation given- Pathways to Comercialisation:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description FoodWasteNet meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Food waste NIBB interaction with industry presentation given- : Biochemical processes for Food Waste
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015