The arable trade body has announced investment of £250,000 to develop opportunities to turn grain-based co-products and by-products into lucrative alternative forms of revenue in the food and drink supply chain.
The main initiative HGCA is funding is the development of a process for producing ferulic acid from wheat bran, a by-product of wheat milling, the HGCA told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
Ferulic acid had many uses, Harley Stoddart, HGCA research and knowledge transfer manager, said. It could, for example, be used in the production of vanillin, or as an active ingredient in anti-ageing skin care products. Both command attractive price premiums.
Stoddart said he’d had feedback from millers that the project would have helped them recoup costs associated with poor harvests last year.
“If there had been something in place already, we could potentially have offset the significant costs of having to import high quality wheat from elsewhere,” he explained.
Wet weather in 2012 led to costly importing of wheat from overseas, as large portions of UK wheat were of insufficient quality to make bread or other products.
Stoddart said bran product did not hold a particularly high value in itself, “whereas if you can process it into ferulic acid then you are getting somewhere quite significant”.
From the thousands of tonnes of vanillin on the market, only 1–2% of it was derived from natural sources. “There’s quite a constraint on the availability of vanilla pods, so the price difference between synthetic and natural vanillin is huge.
“Vanillin derived [naturally] from biomass fetches $700/kg, as opposed to $15/kg for synthetic vanillin.”
The HGCA has estimated that 1Mt of wheat bran is produced annually in the UK, equating to potential ferulic acid production of 5,000t.
The HGCA was also looking into dried distillers grains and solutions as by-products for use in ethanol and carbon dioxide production, said Stoddart. The latter could be sold to fizzy drinks makers for soft drinks production, he said.
The best returns were from ethanol production, he added, but it was still difficult to make ethanol production from by-products economically feasible on its own, hence the need to generate other products simultaneously.
The HGCA has also allocated £15,000 to a three-month techno-economic feasibility study to investigate the potential of a polylactic acid (PLA) plant in the UK.
PLA can be made from milling by-products and is used in the global plastics supply chain, in areas such as compostable packaging.
The global biopolymer market was expected to grow by 13% by 2020 in the EU, said HGCA. Stoddart called PLA “the largest growing area within bioplastics and biopolymers”.
In addition to the lucrative nature of the three projects mentioned for those generating by-products and co-products in the food chain, they also strengthened security of supply for processors, said Stoddart.
HGCA’s initial call to tender research proposals to exploit opportunities from co-products and by-products was issued in December.