The aim of the project, which is being coordinated by Technical University of Denmark, is to develop tools that scan potato residues for protein sequences with properties that could be used to produce additives.
These proteins could be used to make a range of natural food additives from preservatives and flavouring agents to emulsifiers, the researchers said. Currently, however, many of them are being used for low-value animal feed or simply being thrown out as waste.
One of the challenges will be to develop an extraction process that is cost efficient and effective.
The researchers estimate that residual potato products are currently sold for between DKK 1-15 per kilogram – somewhere between €0.13 and €2. Protein extracted from these residues could be sold for a per kilo price that is around 10,000 times higher, depending on the final use.
The project, dubbed PROVIDE (Protein valorization through informatics, hydrolysis, and separation), will run for the next five years with a budget of DKK 21 million (€3m), two thirds of which comes from investment from Innovation Fund Denmark.
Five companies have already signed up to the project: CP Kelco, KMC, AKV-Langholt, Lime Protein Solutions and UniBio.
Head of R&D at KMC Ole Bandsholm Sørensen said: “The research project will give us a unique insight into whether the — for us — least valuable part of the potato can be used for new specialized ingredients in the production of food or non-food products.”
In addition to the industrial partners, it will bring together researchers from DTU and Aalborg University.
Project manager and professor of microbial science at DTU Egon Bech Hansen told FoodNavigator: "Our focus is to get more value out of proteins from plant residues which we will do by applying bioinformatics early in the discovery process. As sequences are known from all major crops, we can use proteomics to identify what proteins are present in any given residue. Based also on the sequences of the proteins, we can predict if those proteins contain embedded peptides with desirable functionalities."
This is not the first time Danish researchers have looked into increasing the value of potato waste.
An extraction method developed in 2011 showed potential for the large-scale extraction of potato fibres from pulp. Rich in the pectin rhamnogalacturonan I, it could help to produce ingredients, such as functional hydrocolloids
Potato pulp is a by-product of the starch industry. In Europe, around one million tons are produced every year yet only a small amount is used.