Olive oil waste yields molecules useful chemical, food industries

Olive oil waste yields useful molecules for chemical, food industries

10:15 AM, 16th July 2016
Olive oil waste yields molecules useful for chemical, food industries
It marks the first time that alpeorujo has been used to produce biosurfactants, which are environmentally friendly molecules of biological origin. They have numerous applications in fields as varied as cosmetics, medicine, food, detergency, and the environment.

GRANADA, SPAIN: Researchers at the University of Granada’s department of chemical engineering are using alpeorujo (the waste created during olive oil extraction) and cooking oils to produce surface active agents, more specifically, biosurfactants and monoglycerides, molecules which have innumerable applications in the chemical and food industries.

It marks the first time that alpeorujo has been used to produce biosurfactants, which are environmentally friendly molecules of biological origin. They have numerous applications in fields as varied as cosmetics, medicine, food, detergency, and the environment.

Surfactants (a portmanteau of surface, active and agent) are molecules that contain an oil soluble component and another water soluble component (polar solvents). The partial solubility in water as well as oil allows the surfactant to fill the interface between oil and water. Surfactants thus reduce surface and interfacial tension between individual molecules at the surface and interface, respectively, and also have emulsifying properties.

Alpeorujo is the waste generated during olive oil extraction through the two-phase process (the most commonly used in Spain today). While the implementation of the two-phase system has notably addressed environmental problems associated with olive oil production, when unifying and reducing residual currents alpeorujo still poses a severe environmental and management problem in olive-producing regions due to the pollution it causes and the high volumes which are generated.

Used cooking oils, for their part, are also generated in high quantities in homes, hotels and restaurants. Although there are authorized companies in charge of collecting these used oils, and the collection rate is increasing, it is difficult to find a secondary use for these pollutant products.

Currently, both forms of waste are used for energy production, whether through direct combustion (as with alpeorujo) or through prior conversion into biofuel (used oils). Accordingly, the UGR research group has proposed converting them into substances with great added value, such as those mentioned above.

Furthermore, biotechnological processes have been used for this conversion. In order to fully exploit the alpeorujo, it was fermented with biosurfactant-producing microorganisms. Working in collaboration with another group of scientists from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and the Regional University of Blumenau in Brazil, the researchers were able to produce these types of substances for the first time using strains of Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, with alpeorujo acting as the sole source of carbon.

The findings represent an important breakthrough in obtaining these biosurfactants at lower prices than currently available. On the other hand, for the conversion of oil waste into monoglycerides and diglycerides, the researchers employed enzymatic hydrolysis, which allows for very smooth reaction conditions. This process was carried out in micro-emulsion, a nanostructured system and with an elevated interfacial area, making it possible to maximize the action of the enzymes.

The study was funded by the Regional Government of Andalusia and the Special Research Programme at the University of Granada.

© University of Granada News

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