In today's society, there is a clear demand for reducing and/or avoiding losses in the food industry. One of the sectors with the highest losses is the fruit sector, where approximately 40-50% is lost through the food chain.
A possible re-use for that fruit waste is to transform it into a functional biomaterial, such as fruit leather. This could also be an ecological alternative to animal leather, for which not only more than a billion animals are slaughtered every year, but which also produces enormous amounts of CO2 and consumes large amounts of water and toxic chemicals.
With this project, UC Limburg wants to investigate the possibilities of making a recyclable, compostable, bio-based leather material from apple and pear waste, which could eventually form a sound alternative to animal leather.
The focus was mainly on the development of a new material, starting from apple waste supplied by BelOrta and PiPo. We added the necessary non-fossil, natural and biodegradable additives and optimised the production process in order to obtain the most functional (strong, mould- and water-resistant) material possible.
PartnersUC Limburg, Belcool bvba, Truilingen bvba, MIA.H nv, Instituut voor Landbouw-, Visserij- en Voedingsonderzoek, Standsbestuur Genk, BelOrta, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, BE Vegan, UC Leuven, UHasselt
We discovered that it is technically feasible to produce a biomaterial from apple waste, both from rebu apples from the auction (BelOrta) and from press cake from the fruit-pressing company PiPo.
We succeeded in developing a flexible, compostable, leathery biomaterial with high tensile strength from apple waste.
During the course of the project, we were able to significantly improve the strength, water and mould resistance of the developed biomaterial thanks to various additives and coatings.
By focusing on dissemination through demo activities and publications and thanks to numerous collaborations, we were able to introduce various target groups to the circular (and bio-based) economy: pupils, students, people from the business world, the general public, etc.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
The spirit of the times is ripe for a transition to the circular economy. In two years' time, we have already taken many steps forward, but we are still encountering a number of technical obstacles. Developing a new material and bringing it to the market is therefore a long-term process.
Natural materials are still often compared to plastics, which are easier to process and produce on a larger scale. But to compete fairly, we need to take the whole material cycle into account: fossil origins, oil extraction, CO2 emissions from combustion, microplastic pollution, and so on.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
At the moment, we are carrying out production in batches. A follow-up trajectory has been requested and approved in order to produce our product semi-continuously and on a larger scale via a pilot plant. We received a subsidy for this from the King Baudouin Foundation.
We also want to investigate the possibility of producing a functional hard biomaterial from apple waste. A subsidy for this has been obtained from PWO.
In the coming years we will further valorise theexpertise on circular economy and the development of circular materials, both within the PBA Chemistry programme and within our Sustainable Resources expertise cell.