The initiative promoted by the scientist of the University of La Serena, Claudia Bernal, will use waste from food shells to produce raw materials, which mostly come from the oil industry.
At a time when there is an urgent need to reduce emissions of gases that pollute the environment, it is a priority to generate raw materials through alternatives that are different from the oil industry. In this line, one of the challenges currently facing the food industry is what to do with the waste that is produced. An example of this is Pectin, a polymer present in the shell of many foods that in Chile, in general, takes very little advantage, implying an extra expense for the industry, which must pay for the process to be discarded.
Given this need, Dr. Claudia Bernal, academic and researcher of the Department of Food Engineering and the faculty of the Doctorate in Food Engineering and Bioprocesses of the University of La Serena, designed a project that aims to use a waste of the food industry to produce new products in a clean way, contributing in turn to reduce pollutants. "Pectin, which is a by-product of the food industry, can be transformed via enzymatic raw material to generate nylon and polyester, which are currently produced from the petroleum industry," he explained.
To finance this project, Dr. Bernal was awarded one of the funds of the FONDECYT Regular 2019 (National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development) Contest that this year was given to researchers from the Coquimbo Region, which is highly competitive and currently represents the main source of financing for scientific research in Chile.
"The FONDECYT that I won is focused on taking advantage of two great opportunities that the region and the country are delivering: the first is the Recycling Law, which is to reuse and take advantage of the industry's by-products; and the second is to transform food, in which it is desired that food is not raw material but that products of added value are given, "said Dr. Bernal.
"If we use an agro-food residue transforming it with enzymes, clean technology, to produce something that is also not going to pollute so much from the oil industry, we are making a contribution in these two opportunities that Chile had," he added.
"The pectin that is extracted from the husks of agro-food waste is used as a gelling agent to make jams and other foods, it is a product of very low value, and that in the best of cases. Most of the shells end up in the garbage dumps, little is done, so it's a good opportunity. Produce raw material to generate other types of materials such as polymers or polyesters as far as I know is not done (in Chile), then there is an important niche to generate technology and new areas of commerce, "he explained.
Dr. Bernal hopes to be able to link entrepreneurs and obtain financing to scale and have future trained people in the area and trade and thus contribute to a solution to the management of waste from the agro-food industry.