A bio-based solvent for a greener food sector: As simple as a cup of tea

Oil and vegetable proteins are an important part of our diet, and that of animals. For decades, to extract oil or plant proteins from seeds, hexane has been used, which is a petroleum-based product. In this case, hexane functions as a solvent to separate the oil from the proteins.

The chemical industry is always looking for innovative ways to reduce the use of fossil resources within its own processes, as well as its customers processes. One way of achieving this, is by helping the food industry remove petrochemical residues from our food.

Pennakem Europa has been working with experts in the areas of process, chemistry, toxicology, food safety and marketing to create a bio-based alternative to hexane to extract oil and vegetable proteins. Their solution? A bio-solvent based on a pure molecule already used for years in the pharma industry. This solvent is just as efficient as hexane but with a 90% reduction of CO2 impact as it comes from an agricultural by-product, the sugar cane bagasse, the fibrous waste that remains after sugar recovery.

How does Pennakem Europa’s bio-based solution separate oils from proteins? Just like when you make tea, the solvent is heated up to 65°C, the crushed seeds are dipped into the hot solvent, and the oil passes through. Then the seeds are taken out of the liquid. The seeds and the liquid are both heated separately to evaporate the solvent, which is then recovered by condensation. As a result, you are left with three products: edible oil, well defatted seeds and the solvent. The latter is ready to be used again for the next extraction process.

The solution has been proven at industrial scale with the extraction of 45 tonnes of rapeseed in 2020 and a first hexane-based extraction plant will be repurposed in 2021 to be able to run with the new bio-solvent. Whilst the solvent is already usable for feed, cosmetic and pharma applications in Europe, the aim is to introduce it in food applications by 2022.

Associated SDG Targets

SDG 12-ResponsibleConsumptionAndProduction
SDG Goal 13 Climate Action

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