Extract useful molecules from residues like banana peels

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Extracting useful molecules from residues like banana peels

Banana peels are among the resources used by researchers in their experiments.

A process developed by Quebec researchers makes it possible to more efficiently extract molecules from inedible residues which can then be used to manufacture various products.

In experiments carried out with banana peels, the mechano-enzymatic process designed by researchers at Laval University and McGill University produced 1.2 times more glucose and 1.9 times more fructose than the usual process by chemical hydrolysis.

These simple sugars can then be converted, by heat treatment, into a molecule called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). This very versatile molecule can be used, for example, to synthesize fuel or various industrial products, including drugs.

But banana peels are just one example.

“Banana peel is a pretty complex thing. There is cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin… It was a bit of a concept to demonstrate that basically, if we are able to do that with the banana peel, we are able to do that with many things.

— Marie-Josée Dumont, Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Laval University

Professor Dumont reveals that other experiments have given interesting results with paper and corrugated cardboard.

The usual process consists of treating the residues with solvents and chemical catalysts.

The process developed by Professor Dumont in collaboration with researchers Mario Perez Venegas, Valérie Orsat and Karine Auclair, from McGill University, and master's candidate A.K.M. Al Amin Leamon instead uses enzymes and mechanical processing.

The banana peels are placed in a ball mill whose mechanical action on the biomass facilitates the work of the enzymes. This method does not require pretreatment or intensive chemical treatment.

From the same quantity of banana peels, this mechano-enzymatic process produces three times more of HMF than the chemical process, write the researchers in the journal Bioresource Technology.

HMF is one of many platform molecules that can be produced by this process, i.e. molecules from which other products can then be made.

“The goal would be to be able to integrate around 80% of food residues, for example dairy products, bakery products, fruit and vegetable products that are expired, or for example peels, in an integrated system to be able to produce a wide range of these platform molecules. »

— Marie-Josée Dumont, professor in the department of chemical engineering at Laval University

This discovery takes on a whole new dimension when we know that the The UN calculates that a third of all the food produced each year on Earth is eventually wasted and that sorting centers are crumbling under mountains of paper and cardboard. Being able to transform even a small part of these residues into useful molecules would be valuable.

Different processed products will give rise to different platform molecules. Researchers are now building a library of what works with one product versus another with the goal of one day being able to integrate all of this information.

If I accomplish that during my career, I will be happy, concluded Professor Dumont with a laugh.

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