Using CO2 to upcycle waste streams

Published: 04-01-2016

After rapeseed or olive oil extraction, the cake that is left over contains valuable proteins, antioxidants and oil residues. New technology from FeyeCon uses CO2 to extract those substances. The method is energy efficient and makes no use of chemical solvents. This sustainable process can also be applied elsewhere in the food industry.

FeyeCon has developed excellent applications to repurpose CO2 resulting from various industrial processes. The company uses the emissions to extract nutritional substances from waste streams and to dry fruits and vegetables. As a produce-drying method, carbon dioxide is mild and has a minimal impact on flavor, color and texture.

The technology is based on the principle that, under specific conditions (at 31°C and 73 bar), carbon dioxide becomes supercritical: a phase between liquid and gas. Supercritical CO2 has a gas-like viscosity and a liquid-like density. In this phase, CO2 is able to absorb water molecules and various organic molecules.

Lab and pilot scale
FeyeCon is a global player in the carbon dioxide technology market and develops new products as well as new applications for those products. “CO2 technology has incredible potential,” says Cynthia Akkermans, Food Group Team Leader at FeyeCon. “Not just for food applications, but also for dyeing and cleaning textiles, producing natural extracts for the cosmetics industry and upcycling municipal waste.” No wonder FeyeCon is active in five industries: food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, textiles, polymers, and algae. The company is headquartered in the Netherlands and has ten joint ventures in the Netherlands, Europe, Asia and the USA.

“We have both lab-scale and pilot-scale equipment in the Netherlands to develop all sorts of processes,” says Akkermans. “We develop 1-on-1 product-process combinations. If something works, we can scale it up. We do that together with our clients. We also participate in various large projects with universities and other businesses. Several technologies that we pioneered have resulted in spinoffs, like CO2Dry, for example. They’re specialized in using CO2 to dry and preserve food products.”

Another of FeyeCon’s activities is upcycling waste streams from the food industry. For example, FeyeCon can extract valuable substances from oil-cake left over from rapeseed and olive oil production. “This process has generated a lot of interest,” says Akkermans. “Until recently, oil-cake was sold as cattle feed. Our technology makes it possible to extract substances that are fit for human consumption, which means oil manufacturers can get a better price for their side streams.”

Algae are also a source of valuable substances. “With our CO2 technology, we can extract Omega-3 oils, proteins and dyes,” Akkermans continues. “This application has led to another spinoff, called AlgaeBiotech.”

An innovative application of carbon dioxide technology is micro-encapsulation. “Micro-encapsulation protects sensitive ingredients in a matrix and hence gives those ingredients new functionality,” Akkermans explains. “For example, we might want to stabilize a flavor, dye, oil or protein. But the technology can also be used for triggered release, which creates entirely new possibilities for nutritional research. We can encapsulate certain substances in such a way that they are released in pre-determined areas of the gastro-intestinal tract.”

CO2 technology can also be used to create textured fat crystals. FeyeCon worked with Unilever to optimize this process, which resulted in a product called InstaTex. “This is a new, sustainable ingredient that can be produced energy-efficiently using a carbon dioxide waste stream from another line of business, like breweries,” Akkermans says. “InstaTex has great product properties and can be used in margarines to lower their fat content. But we think it’s suitable for other food products too, like bakery products, confectionery and chocolate.”

“In 2014, we transferred the IP from this project to Unilever. That’s how we work. We develop a new technology plus applications in close collaboration with a client. FeyeCon is so much more than just a research lab. We keep working on discovering new applications for our technology,” concludes Akkermans.