Agricultural waste and products deemed not worthy of the supermarket shelf will be used to make a range of value-added products—including cosmetics.
To look into how to do this, a A$10.9m (US$7.7m) project, led by the University of Adelaide, has been granted A$4m over four years by the South Australian government through its Research Consortia program, on a public-private model.
Crop waste with cosmetic value
Lead investigator Professor Vincent Bulone said he hoped the first commercial products would be ready for launch within 12 months.
“Agriculture is already a key contributor to the local economy but its huge potential to generate high-value products and create new post-farm gate industries has not yet been realised,” he said.
“Our agricultural and horticultural industries generate abundant waste biomass, which is currently disposed of at a cost to the producer, or only a low return. But there are compounds we can derive from this waste—a range of different biomolecules—that have high-value potential applications for their structural or health properties.”
Some biomolecules that can be derived from crop waste show anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, among others, which would be in demand for cosmetics formulations.
Examples include anthocyanins from apples and cherries, and chitosan from mushrooms for use in skin care products, as well as cellulose for its moisturising benefits.
Prof. Bulone said the method for extracting various molecules from the different waste types he was targeting was often exactly the same because it targeted the same class of compound.
“My idea is to scale up and have a manufacturing business established quickly to produce these molecules as commercial products,” he said.
“We could then take all kinds of biomass all year round, depending on the season, whether it be cherries, onions or apples, so we can have continuous production.”
Fulfilling a “high need”
He claims already to have two international companies who have expressed interest in buying the project’s value-added products “because there is a high need”.
The project will bring together 18 partners to develop high-value products from agricultural waste, counting agriculture and food companies as well as national and international academic institutions and industry partners.
“The outcomes from this major research consortia… will contribute to the creation of new post-farmgate industries through the development and commercialisation of value-added products from agricultural waste,” South Australian minister for industry and skills, David Pisoni, said.
A strong focus will be placed attracting students and researchers and providing training across multiple disciplines and industrial specialisations.
“Our agricultural and horticultural industries generate abundant waste biomass, which is currently disposed of at a cost to the producer, or only a low return,” said Prof Bulone.
“At the moment we are importing some of these compounds that we have in our waste because we do not have the right industry to extract them and prepare them from waste.
“By value adding to that waste with new products, the growers can keep growing, increase their margin and ensure the sustainability of rural activities across the country.”