Pavle Jovanov, PhD, Head of Protopower Project – Rapeseed Cake, Instead of Waste, Could Be Resource for New Food Products and Waste Water Treatment

Source: eKapija Tuesday, 23.01.2024. 11:38
(Photo: Lična arhiva)
A suitable way of managing waste from various production processes has been the topic of discussion in our country for years now. Certain steps are being taken as well, especially since Serbia has been striving to join the European Union for a long time now, and one of the negotiation chapters on the road to accession is Chapter 27, that is, according to the new methodology, the Green Agenda negotiation cluster. However, that not everything that industry has considered to be production-process waste for years necessarily is truly waste, but the opposite, a resource for new products, is something that the researchers at the Science Institute for Food Technologies in Novi Sad and the Faculty of Technology at the University of Novi Sad have been trying to show through their Protopower project. Within this project, led by Pavle Jovanov, PhD, the researchers will use the waste created during the production of oil from rapeseed, that is, the rapeseed cake, which has been discovered to be very rich in protein.

eKapija: How have the potentials of rapeseed cake been recognized, that what remains after oil is produced can be used in multiple ways?

– There is knowledge that rapeseed is planted to a great extent in Vojvodina, however, rapeseed oil is not as popular as in western Europe, so the potential for the promotion of rapeseed oil is certainly there. We then thought about what happened after the cold-pressing of that oil. What remains from the process is precisely the rapeseed cake and then we looked at how it can be used so that we would reach the zero-waste concept. Among other things, it has been determined that what the cake contains can be used for waste water treatment. Also, protein isolates, proteins of high purity, can be extracted from it. It has turned out that those proteins are great for vegans and vegetarians, because they have a high lysine content, a necessary amino acid, and that they go well with other plant-based proteins. They can be combined, which in a way produces everything that the organism needs, and which a vegetarian or a vegan can’t get from a single plant. Finally, what remains after we extract the proteins are dietetic fibers. In recent years, there has generally been a lot of talk about the fibers that are good for the bowels, for example. So, I believe that we have fully utilized something that has been considered waste so far.

eKapija: When was the project officially launched and how many researchers are taking part in it?

– The project officially started in mid-May this year. It is planned to last two years, with the possibility of being extended to a third year, if we are joined by an associate from the field of economy, a company which would be interested in trying to apply what we are working on, that is, in implementing it in practice. We have 15 researchers on the project between our two institutions.

eKapija: In which phase is the project at the moment?

– It is currently in the experimental phase, we are doing experiments at the moment. You could say we are still in the initial phase, but an experimental one, because we are already getting the first results. Everything is taking its course.

eKapija: When it comes to the research itself, as pointed out, rapeseed oil itself is much better for people than some other oils we use as food, in both the quality and the content. What are the confirmed advantages of this oil compared to other oils?

– For example, rapeseed oil is often compared to olive oil. It has a higher content of polyunsaturated fatty acids than olive oil. It even has a more favorable ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a low content of saturated fatty acids compared to, for example, sunflower oil. The recommendations of the World Health Organization are to reduce the intake of those saturated fatty acids to below 10%. Rapeseed oil has that and meets those requirements. It truly has several benefits. On top of all that, this oil is cheaper than olive oil.

eKapija: The rapeseed cake has multiple uses as a resource. It is primarily rich in precisely those high-quality proteins. What characterizes these proteins compared to some other protein sources?

– They have a very high bio-availability, so they belong among high-quality proteins by all parameters used to estimate the quality of a protein. To illustrate, when it comes to this kind of protein, what is eaten is absorbed by the organism. The proteins from the rapeseed cake contain amino acids which are essential, and which can mostly be found in meat, that is, animal products. They contain those amino acids, which, as I’ve mentioned, are mostly missing from a vegetarian diet. The proteins from the rapeseed cake, let us be clear, are not by themselves the optimal option for somebody’s diet, but combined with proteins from other sources, which contain more of some other amino acids, the optimal combination of proteins is produced.

eKapija: The procedure for the extraction of the proteins which are of high quality and which can be used by people who exercise, for example, is being developed within the project.

– We strive to get the cleanest possible protein, to characterize it and to then, in some further steps, test it as part of the formulas of some new products.

eKapija: In your research, you use both conventional and innovative protein extraction techniques. Which are the innovative techniques and what makes them important?

– These are techniques based on so-called green extractions, where solvents which are not harmful to the environment or the health of the people who work with them are used.

eKapija: Useful fibers can also be extracted from the cake. The long-term plan is to develop a technology for the production of food products rich in protein. Based on the research so far, is it known what that could look like in the future in practice and which products could be produced by using this resource?

– We are not yet in the phase where we could think about which concrete products it could be incorporated in, but generally speaking, it could be used in various types of functional food products, such as protein bars, gruels, bread.

eKapija: As you’ve already pointed out, the zero-waste concept is the aim, so that the matters which remain after the useful ingredients are extracted for human consumption, they can also be used – that is, natural, biodegradable and non-toxic coagulants for waste water treatment. In what way can they be used and what would be the advantage of these coagulants compared to this which have been used for decades?

– For the edible oil industry, which generates that waste, it would be interesting to be able to use that waste for something. In principle, the coagulants produced from the rapeseed cake could even be cheaper than those that are already used. There are various benefits, because these are certainly natural coagulants. They are not a new concept as such, but they haven’t been examined enough so far. In any case, it has been determined that there is potential in waste water treatment.

eKapija: The idea of this project is for the agri-industrial waste to be used as a resource. In general, what is the plan for its development in the next phases, primarily when it comes to the testing of the results?

– We are aiming toward getting the best technique for isolating, extracting the protein and then when it is optimized, when we get the best technique for the isolation of the protein, to incorporate it in new products.

eKapija: Which key results and benefits are expected?

– The idea is for the industry to see and realize the benefit from what we are currently working on. For example, to start recycling their own waste, that is, to use it for something.

eKapija: When it comes to the cooperation with the Science Fund, why is it important that the Protopower project has been supported within the program of the Science Fund?

– The Science Fund sent us an invitation within the Green Program which promotes cooperation between the economy and science. We got a special invitation and we are grateful that our project has been selected for financing. Without their help, we would certainly not be able to realize the project. This is not our first cooperation with the Science Fund either, we also cooperated within the Promis program, when I was a member of the research team. Our institute has the luck to get a project from each of their invitations, because, for us, the experience of cooperation with them is very significant.

D. Aleksic

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