Image: Krist Gernaey

Find the jewels in your bio-waste

Tuesday 04 Jun 19
by Morten Andersen


Seyed Soheil Mansouri
Associate Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 29 07
Researchers at the Process and Systems Engineering Centre (PROSYS) at DTU Chemical Engineering are changing the mindset in the biomass, food, and bio-manufacturing industries, moving away from waste treatment to generating additional revenue streams.

To the researchers at PROSYS, ‘waste to value’ is more than a phrase. Cooperating with companies in the various industries including food and bio-manufacturing industries, they are analysing current waste streams, identifying valuable resources and suggesting techniques to exploit them.

“The application of separation and reaction technologies towards achieving resource recovery and circular economy in bio-based production processes is still minimal, despite their wide use in closely related processes such as dairy production,” notes Assistant Professor Seyed S. Mansouri, PROSYS.

“For decades in Danish industry, the main idea has been to treat your waste at a designated facility to reach acceptable levels of certain critical compounds, allowing for safe disposal. Regardless of the many words being spoken about circular economy, it remains difficult to lose this mindset. However, a change in approach is necessary.”

"Only when contributing to an economic or societal perspective, will solutions become operational to the enterprise."
Assistant Professor, Seyed S. Mansouri

An approach of systematic thinking
An extreme example of side-stream valorization in a bio-process is the compound hesperidin. As the market value of this pharmaceutically active compound is more than 170,000 Euro/ton, even tiny amounts in the waste or sidestreams may be worth capturing. So, this is truly finding a jewel in one’s bio-waste if resource recovery can be justified from a technological, environmental, and societal point of view.

Another example, addressed by the PROSYS team, is continuous removal of lactic acid from fermentation processes. Lactic acid is used in bulk quantities in several chemical industry applications. Thus, the compound—generally regarded as a byproduct in the biotech industry—does have a value in itself.

In a typical scenario, PROSYS may be approached by an enterprise, suggesting PROSYS to take a look at the current streams of waste and byproducts.

“The core of what we do is applying a systematic thinking approach in the context of process engineering which is commonly regarded as Process Systems Engineering (PSE). Firstly, we will try to identify the valuable compounds and their fluxes while quantifying their viability for recovery through techno-economic-sustainability evaluation. Secondly, we will assess which technical solutions can be purchased or developed for the necessary capture of valuable compounds. This is all about managing complexity,” Seyed S. Mansouri explains.

Economic feasibility is crucial
The team is not just looking at recovering resources.

“Only when contributing to an economic or societal perspective, will solutions become operational for the enterprise. At PROSYS we have set up a mixture of expertise to cover the spectrum from economics over general engineering disciplines to specific biotech disciplines such as fermentation and biocatalysis. In our experience, it is preferable to introduce economic calculations as early as possible. This will avoid spending precious time on solutions that will never become applicable,” says Seyed S. Mansouri.

Valorization of waste and side-streams has several advantages besides the additional revenue, Seyed S. Mansouri emphasizes:

“Contrary to the earlier image of waste management being unproductive and costly, today we often see the new focus on circular economy as a driver for real innovation. On a larger scale, achieving circular economy is a key opportunity for Denmark. As a small country with large dependency on imports of minerals and other raw materials, it makes a lot of sense to ensure that these streams are used carefully, limiting the need for further imports. And if we look a bit into the future, the day will come when the large raw material consumers have depleted their own resources. This is when they may look to Denmark to be inspired how to manage resources better, and then Danish technologies might become vital.”

Bio-waste related projects in PROSYS

Researchers at PROSYS are involved in several projects aimed at utilizing byproducts and waste streams in the biomass, food and bio-manufacturing industries.

GREENLOGIC explores mixed microbial culture biotechnology for production of energy-rich biofuels and green chemicals from low-value substrates and waste streams. Besides DTU, the academic partners are Lund University, Delft University of Technology, Technical University Berlin, and University of Queensland. Novozymes participates as industrial end user.

BIOPRO combines the expertise of DTU and University of Copenhagen with the industrial partners Chr. Hansen, CP Kelco, Ørsted, Novo Nordisk, Novozymes and Xellia Pharmaceuticals, with the aim of bringing new, greener technology into pilot or full-scale application. CAPNOVA is involved to help in transforming research results into new products and startup companies.

REWARD (REuse of WateR in the food and bioprocessing inDustries) proposes the novel idea of applying the successful principles of Process Analytical Technology and Quality by Design to production and cleaning water management in the food and bioprocessing industry.

Further, the centre is involved in R2D2 (Recovery and Reuse through Design and Development), a Postdoc project funded by Carlsberg, and GECKO, a DANIDA funded project in collaboration with Kenya.

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