Food waste becomes sustainable and profitable bioplastics

In late September, Pedro F. Souza Filho defended his doctoral thesis in the field of Resource Recovery at the University of Borås with his dissertation "Fungi-based biorefinery model for food industry waste" with a focus on finding better processes within the circular economy for the food industry.

It is estimated that 40 per cent of all foods are wasted, which means a significant loss of productivity, energy and natural resources. In his study, he has conducted case studies on four types of waste from food manufacturing processes that would otherwise be discarded that come from the production of potato starch, orange juice, pea protein and wheat starch.

"I grew a special filamentous fungus on the various kinds of waste, creating a biomass. It looked different on the various kinds of waste," he explains.

Pedro F. Souza Filho defended his doctoral thesis on 28 September at the University of Borås in Resource Recovery.
FThe research has been conducted in the research and education environment the Swedish Center for Resource Recovery, the University of Borås.

Title of the doctoral thesis: Fungi-based biorefinery model for food industry waste: Progress torward circular economy (pdf)

Principal supervisors: Mohammad Taherzadeh and Akram Zamani.

Biomass for fish feed or bioplastics

By taking food waste products that are usually disposed of and by using these fungi that, in turn, generate protein-rich biomass, this mass can then be used and returned to the production cycle.

One example is that instead of taking lots of small fish just to feed other fish that are grown for the food industry, feed based on fungal protein can be used as an alternative. In such ways, most things are reused, which has a positive effect both economically and environmentally.

Another example is the ability to create bioplastics with the help of fungi. Oil-based plastic, which is a very useful and flexible material, pollutes our environment and breaks down very slowly. Therefore, methods for the cheaper manufacturing of bioplastics are important.

May lower production costs

The results of the research show that there can be both environmental and economic benefits to this kind of fungus cultivation. It can reduce both waste and chemical oxygen demand (COD, a measure of the amount of oxygen needed to break down the organic substances in the water), but also reduce production costs.

"This is a very exciting research area, and I will spend my remaining months in Borås researching how the cultivation on wheat can be used for the production of bioplastics. Then I will return home to Brazil where I hope to have the opportunity to work with similar solutions, but with cactuses as the source material. It's quite dry in Brazil, so we have plenty of cactuses," says Pedro F. Souza Filho, smiling.

Text: Erika Danielsson