Farmer to pharma? Creating new products from agricultural waste

Potatoes close up

A Research Consortium Program (RCP) led by the University of Adelaide is supporting South Australia’s primary producers by turning their waste into high-value products. The result could be new industries worth over $100m per annum.

To achieve immediate commercial outcomes, the RCP team—jointly funded by the South Australian Government, industry and academic members—is targeting known bioactives and structural compounds prevalent in our local crop biomass.

For example, a range of nutraceuticals, health-promoting foods and beverages, pharmaceutical and skincare products (like sunscreen) and high-performance materials can be produced using compounds found in potatoes, mushrooms and waste streams from the brewing industry.

The process of removing these targeted molecules also produces organic matter that can be fermented into ethanol or converted to ‘green’ oils through different processes, meaning almost all of the original waste produce is recycled for alternative uses.

“We aim to use as close to 100% of the biomass as possible by deriving multiple products from each of the crops, instead of focusing on a small number of valuable, but typically minor molecules,” said lead researcher Professor Vincent Bulone.

“We already have a number of product prototypes that we aim to commercialise in the shortest possible timeframe, such as composite carbohydrate-based materials and products relevant to the cosmetic and skincare sectors.”

Currently, as a result of growing conditions, crop seasons, environmental factors and highly stringent quality criteria (as set by supermarkets), South Australia’s farmers often end up scrapping up to 50% or more of their product. This includes cereals, potatoes, apples, cherries and berries, mushrooms, Brassica vegetables and more.

This waste matter is either left to rot in the field, turned into low-value products such as compost or animal feed, burned for energy, or disposed of at the growers’ expense.

“Today, we are just at the beginning of a new collaboration,” added Professor Bulone. “Our aim is to utilise this significant initial investment from the South Australian Government, industry and academic partners to become the centre of gravity for agricultural waste conversion in our state and nationally.”

Tagged in Agriculture, food and wine, skincare, pharmaceuticals, food waste