Most of the time while creating a product, some things get waste. By recycling or turning those wastage into something else, we can get something new. Similarly, while producing wine, some byproducts get waste. An Australian student has found a way to break down those winery byproducts into compounds that can be used to create bio-fuels and medicines.
Australia is the world’s sixth largest wine producer. Around 1.75 million tonnes of grapes are crushed every year for making wine. But, after the final pressing, more than half of the grapes crushed end up as biomass waste comprised of skins, pulp, stalks and seeds. Unlike other agricultural by-products, this waste has limited use as animal feed due to its poor nutrient value and digestibility. It is also not suitable as compost because it doesn’t degrade. Thus a majority of this grape waste ends up as toxic landfill.
But now, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology have developed a technique for converting winery waste into compounds that can be used to create bio-fuels and medicines. Avinash Karpe, who is a student at the Swinburne University of Technology and now doing his PhD research, has been investigating how to break down this woody material composed of cellulose, pectins and lignins into simpler compounds that can be used to create other things such as ethanol or other biofuels. He has performed a series of experiments to develop the best procedure for degrading winery biomass waste.
Karpe said, “Various fungi are known to degrade this waste by generating an array of enzymes. These enzymes convert the waste to soluble sugars which can then be converted into other products.”
Karpe used a ‘cocktail’ of four fungi – Trichoderma harzianum, Aspergillus niger, Penicillium chrysogenum and Penicillium citrinum in a one litre bioreactor. He discovered that a 30-minute heat can activate pretreatment aided in the breakdown of these biomolecules. And after that, he was successful in breaking down the biomass, with noticeable increases in enzyme activity and lignin degradation. It is to be noted here that the fermentation process takes one to three weeks and produce alcohols, acids and simple sugars of industrial and medicinal interest.
This research has been published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology.