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Our research

Designing better methods of food processing, production and storage

The ARC Training Centre for the Australian Food Processing Industry facilitates collaboration between researchers and industry partners to design sustainable processes and produce affordable food products to reduce disease.

Research themes

We apply our expertise in process design and bioengineering to establish new cost-effective and sustainable approaches in biotechnology and manufacturing processes, with the aim of maximising value recovery from raw materials, minimising food waste, extracting valuable active compounds, enhancing efficiency and reducing energy and water consumption.

We apply our expertise in waste stream recovery, biological assays and analytical techniques to identify active compounds and formulate them into safe, healthy and affordable food and nutraceutical products for the prevention and treatment of viral infection, cancer, inflammation and wound healing. 

Our research focuses on improving the properties of sustainable and biodegradable polymers and developing smart and active packaging with integrated biosensors.

Key projects

Our researchers are aiming to make the disposal and/or recycling of wastewater streams commercially viable.

The team is determining the technical and economic feasibility of decolourising molasses wort for large scale fermentation processes. Ultimately, the objective is to conceive an optimal decolourisation regime, including establishing the optimum membrane type and operating conditions, that will maximise sugar recovery. To date, our experts have been able to show that certain advanced membrane technologies are efficient for the decolourisation of several wastewater streams. 

Our work on renewable and biodegradable plastics will provide a sustainable pathway for plastic production, disposal and reuse.

The broad use and application of non-degradable plastics has led to major environmental issues such as the decreasing capacity of landfill and the ecosystem's exposure to hazardous pollutants. One of the major focuses of our research is developing renewable and biodegradable plastics that can be used as an alternative to the non-degradable polymers currently used on a commercial scale. So far the team has recovered renewable products from food waste and used them as an additive/filler to enhance the mechanical properties of biodegradable plastics. Recent work has demonstrated the superior properties of these biodegradable polymers for packaging food, including the low permeability to oxygen and water vapour compared to current commercial non-degradable polymers. The project will provide a sustainable and economically feasible method to convert agricultural waste into high-value bioplastics, benefiting both the agribusiness sector, which is faced with a growing waste problem, and the packaging sector, which is limited by its dependence on toxic, non-degradable polymers. 

Our work aims to transform citrus peel into a sustainably sourced, natural chemopreventive drug for the future.

Citrus peel is a rich source of bioactive compounds. Our study shows citrus peel possesses an anti-cancer property that keeps cancer cells in the dormant/quiescent phase. This could have substantial implications for the management of a cancer patient’s remission stage, post-chemotherapy (or other therapies). Currently, we are working with our industry partner to develop a nutraceutical product with chemopreventive capacity that will be both affordable and accessible.

By optimising and redesigning industry-standard spray-drying techniques, our team will ensure these methods retain and maximise a product’s bioactivity and effect.

By creating a drying method that produces maximally active powders, the researchers will be able to produce citric powder food products with extended anti-cancer efficacy. To date, our experts have designed a new spray dryer that promotes solvent evaporation and dramatically increases the yield of the spray-drying process by overcoming the common problem of wall deposition. Application of this new design of spray dryer will have positive consequences for product yield, shelf life and degradation rate.

One of the main objectives of this project is to develop an economically viable, large-scale process for the fermentation of Bacillus subtilis to acquire large quantities of vitamin MK7. Vitamin K2 has enormous nutritional benefits for humans and animals, including reduced likelihood of osteoporosis, reduced inflammation, increased bone density and stronger immunity. The team is currently in the process of developing low-cost vitamin K-added product formulations for human and animal consumption.

By infusing chicken feed with vitamin K2, our researchers will make chickens healthier and more productive in laying nutrient–rich eggs.

The use of menadione-added chicken feed substantially decreases chicken bone density and creates issues for animal welfare and commercial productivity. To tackle this problem, our researchers are working to fortify chicken feed with vitamin K. They have shown that feed enriched with vitamin K makes chickens healthier and more profitable by increasing bone density, overall lifetime and egg-laying productivity. From a consumer perspective, eggs enriched with a bioavailable and stable source of vitamin K are healthier. 

Our objective is to create a high-quality raw material for nutraceutical formulation, by harnessing the medicinal potential of the black elderberry.

Sambucus nigra, commonly known as black elderberry, has significant medicinal potential that comes from its antioxidant potential – a property shared by numerous phytochemicals. This project aims to develop and optimise the manufacturing process of this high-quality raw material from black elderberries. Our researchers have been assessing different methods to optimise the maintenance of haemagglutination activity. Moreover, they have been investigating how to improve the handling and ‘plant-to-product’ manufacturing processes (from fresh juice to a concentrate powder) while simultaneously reducing the microbial count to enhance shelf life and stability attributes. Importantly, the project has established and validated analytical techniques for testing the biological activities of different food extracts (other than black elderberry). This includes testing food extracts and compounds for immunological, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activities. 

Our researchers have found high-value nutrients, fibre and bioactive compounds in horticultural waste can be transformed into financially-viable food/health products.

The ARC Training Centre for the Australian Food Processing Industry has been characterising apple pomace, tomato plant residue and other horticultural waste to determine their proximate composition, cellulosic (fibre) content, phytochemical composition and mineral composition. During the characterisation component of their study, the waste materials were found to possess bio-active compounds, functional dietary fibre and antioxidants, among other things. Our team is developing and optimising methods for the cost-effective extraction of these co-products so that they may be transformed into value-added products for sale to nutraceutical extraction and manufacture companies. This project, like many others at the centre, will realise the technically and financially feasible repurposing of high-volume horticultural waste streams. 

Our researchers are assisting their industry partners in identifying novel and viable methods for the repurposing of peanut and treenut hulls.

By researching the development of co-products from peanut and treenut hulls, the ARC Training Centre for the Australian Food Processing Industry aims to characterise the organic waste materials, assess the suitability of co-product development, develop lab-scale processing of co-products and undertake preliminary quality and feasibility assessments. The team has demonstrated that certain bacteria and/or fungi – essential in the production of industrial enzymes – can be cultured on a hull waste-based substrate. They are currently assessing the enzyme yield and activity from selected microbes grown in the submerged and/or solid-state hull cultures. If successfully up-scaled, this finding will have enormous implications for commercial fermentation. In addition, the centre has been exploring the use of hull waste in building and architecture applications. There is a possibility that hull waste can be upcycled into ‘natural’ and wooden-appearing panels.