Solution for waste water in bioplastics and food additives

29 April 2019
AFTERLIFE is a BBI JU project transforming wastewater from food and drink industry into bioplastics and food additives.

BBI JU-funded project AFTERLIFE is developing a technology that filters, treats and converts waste water from the food and drink industry into bioplastics and food additives.

The food and drink industry is the third most water-thirsty industrial manufacturing sector in Europe. It uses around 4.9 m3 of water per inhabitant per year and generates around 3 700 million m3 of waste water annually. This waste water contains organic molecules and other potentially harmful particles that could pollute the environment.

However, there is an alternative. Waste water from the industry contains valuable molecules that could also be extracted and given a second life, turning the water into a resource and helping to integrate the food and drink industry into the emerging circular economy.

BBI JU-funded project AFTERLIFE is developing innovative technology that will filter and extract valuable elements from the waste water and convert them into bioplastics and food additives, as well as purifying the water.

'AFTERLIFE means a significant improvement to even the best waste-water-treatment technologies available today. We are developing a flexible, cost and resource-efficient process to completely recover suspended and soluble matter – and value – from waste water,' says former project coordinator Paolo Stufano of the Eggplant company in Italy.

Tasty targets

The project is targeting the dairy, fruit-processing and sweet-manufacturing industries which account for around 40 % of total investment in waste-water treatment in the food-processing sector.

AFTERLIFE researchers are developing the technology that will separate the different components found in the waste water, including antioxidants, flavonoids, colourants, sweeteners, proteins, oligopeptides, amino acids and essential oils. These elements originate from the food and drink industry but are lost during the conventional waste-water treatment process.

The solids are removed from the water by using a series of membrane filtration units made from micro-, ultra- and nano-filtration and reverse osmosis systems. Each membrane isolates different types of high-value molecules and nutrients. A proper separation of the suspended and diluted compounds has been achieved in this first stage of the project while the developments continue in order to maximise the performance.

Once they have been isolated, the molecules – such as flavonoids and essential oils – can be commercialised and used in sectors like cosmetics, food (including meat, fruit and dairy products) and medicine as natural additives. Molecules isolated in the frame of the AFTERLIFE project will be tested for the development of end products for the food sector.

Meanwhile, the sugars extracted from the water can be fermented into organic acids and then converted into bioplastics which are suitable for packaging food, electronics and biomedicines. AFTERLIFE researchers are currently investigating the best uses for these bioplastics.

At the same time, the filtration process cleans the water and leaves it pure enough to be returned to a water body such as a river or reused in the AFTERLIFE filtration system. Any residual waste like sludges will be used to produce biogas, providing energy for the AFTERLIFE system.

Cutting costs

The technology integrates existing technologies from traditional waste-water treatment systems and the bioplastics industry. 'Traditional waste-water treatment doesn’t allow for the recovery of molecules, while conventional bioplastic production doesn’t use waste water as a raw material for fermentation. Our process boosts value and cuts costs in bioplastic production,' says Stufano.

AFTERLIFE aims to demonstrate its pilot technology on industrial waste water from the dairy, fruit-processing and sweet sectors, as well as to produce bioplastic materials by around 2022.

The AFTERLIFE concept has already been patented and 10 SMEs in the project consortium are ready to commercialise it. Once it is up and running, the technology will be adaptable to other industrial sectors.

AFTERLIFE is a project funded under the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a €3.7 billion public-private partnership between the European Commission and the industry.

Project details

  • Project acronym: AFTERLIFE
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator), Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Finland, Portugal
  • Project N°: 745737
  • Total costs: € 4 180 166
  • EU contribution: € 3 890 593
  • Duration: September 2017 to August 2021

See also

Project website
Project details

Source: European Commission, Research and Innovation Information Centre