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Norwich scientists are making useful chemicals from farm waste

PUBLISHED: 09:01 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 09:01 14 December 2017

Prof Keith Waldron of Quadram Institute Bioscience. Photo: Simon Finlay.

Prof Keith Waldron of Quadram Institute Bioscience. Photo: Simon Finlay.

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A national collection of yeasts at Norwich Research Park has the potential to create new and high-value natural chemicals from farm wastes, said a leading scientist.

Prof Keith Waldron, of Quadram Institute Bioscience, told members of Stalham Farmers’ Club that research into the 4,000-strong collection had already identified some valuable products.

And now it was possible to analyse 1ml samples with automated and robotic techniques to gain more understanding of the potential of certain yeast strains.

Amazingly, some yeast strains were about to produce very significant volumes of natural high-value chemicals, which was starting to excite commercial interest, said Prof Waldron.

He said that there were at least 10,000 different strains throughout the world but the Norwich collection held most of the brewing and baking yeasts.

He had spent more than 20 years looking at ways of turning the estimated 3.9m tonnes of farm waste into more valuable products. For example, spent brewers’ grains – usually fed to livestock – had been shown to produce natural foaming products replacing chemical products.

And onion peelings had produced a natural thickening agent for the food industry but sadly this initiative had proved more popular with European manufacturers than at home, he said.

And another long-term project, which had begun in 2004, has produced a highly-effective natural growing medium for the horticultural sector. Prof Waldron said the outcome was a far-better growing medium than peat – which curiously smelled like “Christmas Cake.”

The challenge of dealing with food waste and farm by-products is global, said Prof Waldron, and solutions could help to reduce the impact on global warming and climate change – and it was as big an issue in the emerging economies such as China and the Indian sub-continent as Europe and north America, he suggested.

Prof Waldron, who was co-director of a national initiative the foodwastenetwork, had brought together about 500 people from across industry to tackle the challenge.

With limited funding of about £200,000, it was working with a total of 18 specialist groups to identify challenges and opportunities. For more details, see www.foodwastenet.org.

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