Ultrasound helps to recover valuable natural ingredients ecologically

Finnish forest berries are globally recognised as superfoods, but only a small share of the valuable natural ingredients growing in our forests is utilised commercially. Ultrasound-assisted continuous extraction may accelerate business involving natural ingredients.

Berries, seeds, roots, peels—Finnish flora holds a wealth of natural ingredients that are commercially utilisable as such or as raw material for other products.

Uses for ingredients extracted, that is, separated by dissolving, from nature include wellness products containing antioxidants or flavonoids, raw materials for active pharmaceutical ingredients, colouring in foods or textiles, and added flavours and fragrances.

LUT's expertise in the chemical and process technology promotes business revolving around natural ingredients as well as the vitality of rural areas in Finland. A new project financed through the Business Finland funding scheme "New knowledge and business from research ideas" aims to build an efficient recovery system for natural ingredients suitable for local production e.g. on farms.

An ultrasound processing device previously developed at LUT is utilised in the construction of the extraction system.

"The basic phenomenon behind the approach is that ultrasound can break organic cells. When we utilise ultrasound in the extraction of natural ingredients, we can achieve yields 25–400% higher than in traditional mixing tank extraction," explains Tuomas Koiranen, Professor of Process Engineering at LUT.

"This is a natural continuation to the utilisation of our previously patented SONOTECC device. We can see significant business potential here," Koiranen continues.

Alternative to fossil raw materials and synthetic methods

Koiranen states that the concept is built on a carbon neutral manufacturing ecosystem and shifts production towards non-synthetic manufacturing methods.

"For example, the food, textile and cosmetics industries still employ many fossil-based colours, flavours and perfumes. These processes based on chemical synthesis have been optimised for decades, but they still generate emissions and waste flows that need to be processed. Breaking bio-based materials with ultrasound enables circumventing these issues."

The continuous modular extraction process will be tested extensively with model substances, such as carotene recovered from carrots, to be able to compare the efficiency of the method to that of other recovery techniques in the light of research data. Meanwhile, the value chain from raw materials to end products becomes visible, and business models can be built around them.

"At these early stages, the applications of the process are yet to be fully uncovered. We aim to create a concept that could be placed in a container, and possibly individual devices for larger companies."

Koiranen envisions that the container solution would be suitable in, for example, juicing stations, farms and microbreweries. Larger food manufacturers or retail stores have an opportunity to benefit from the technology.

"Coupled with modern production, I believe that ultrasound extraction has great potential in boosting processing and in reducing losses in food chains. In my opinion, the on-site recovery of ingredients from, say, fruit waste in supermarkets would be a realistic possibility."

The two-year project NATINREC – MULTIPRODUCT FACTORY FOR SUPEREFFICIENT NATURAL INGREDIENT RECOVERY, funded by Business Finland, was launched in September 2019. In addition to Professor Tuomas Koiranen, the research group includes Project Manager Dmitry Gradov, Researcher Jussi Tamminen, Professors Tuomo Sainio, Antti Häkkinen and Juha Varis, and Director of the Centre of Separation Technology Samantha Kiljunen.

Additional information:

Tuomas Koiranen, Professor, puh. 050 435 7414, firstname.lastname@lut.fi