Ten Years Later

By Annel K. Greene, PhD, Professor and Center Director
Clemson University Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center

February 21, 2013, was a little-known anniversary for the Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center (ACREC). Ten years earlier on that date a discussion forum entitled “Establishment of an Animal Co-Products Research Center: Meeting the Challenges of the Rendering Industry and Creating Opportunities for Clemson University” was held in what was then a purple wall-papered conference room in Poole Agricultural Center in Clemson, SC. The forum was designed to bring together faculty to consider whether research for the rendering industry was a goal Clemson University wished to pursue. Although it was a Friday afternoon, the room was packed with faculty from nearly a dozen departments across campus representing a wide variety of fields of study.

A few months prior, Dr. Gary Pearl, then president and technical director of the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation (FPRF), had discussed with Dr. Annel Greene a tentative desire among the rendering industry for establishing a center. The intent was to develop a place where research could be focused on solving problems for the industry and students could learn more about rendering. Although it took three more years of negotiations before ACREC was officially launched, it is interesting to note how Clemson University researchers have assisted the rendering industry during the past seven years with ideas initiated on that Friday afternoon in 2003.

One of the greatest challenges for the industry that year was the changing dynamics and unknown scope of pending regulations for animal protein meals. In the announcement for the discussion forum, a research center dedicated to three areas of study was proposed. The first area was novel product development seeking new uses and, thus, new markets for animal proteins and fats. It was suggested that new polymers, films, or fibers could be created from rendered materials to explore new markets, if ever needed. ACREC researchers Drs. Amod Ogale and Igor Luzinov each created novel new plastics from animal protein meals. Ogale’s plastic is a pliable material that has been studied for use in horticultural applications while Luzinov’s plastic is a hard polymer that can be machined.

Drs. Paul Dawson and Feng Chen each isolated useful sub-components from the protein fraction of meat and bone meals: carnosine and a protein antioxidant, respectively. Carnosine is widely touted in the nutraceutical industry as a promoter of cellular rejuvenation and preventer of age-related damage. Dawson determined that poultry meals contain large quantities of carnosine and proposed this could be explored as a veterinary nutraceutical. Chen found that small subunits of proteins known as peptides, which are abundant in animal protein meals, are powerful antioxidants. Both researchers suggested these inherent components could be used to promote rendered products as superior to vegetable-based feed ingredients.

Dr. Thomas Jenkins, a long-time collaborator with the rendering industry, continued his work developing improved methods of using tallow as an animal feed ingredient while Dr. Thomas Scott investigated use of specialized tissues from bovine udders as a high-value feed ingredient or growth promoter for either live animals or tissue culture. Drs. Alexey Vertegel and Vladimir Reukov discovered yet another potent antioxidant from rendered products that is as effective as or better than current commercially available antioxidants.

Dr. Charles Gooding engaged his undergraduate chemical engineering students in several classes over multiple semesters in exploring rendered products. It is believed this was the first time rendering had been discussed in any university chemical engineering course in at least the past 30 years – if ever! Gooding and his students explored new potential products for higher profits from animal fats. One such product – an industrial lubricant – has great promise for high profits and sales. Dr. Christopher Kitchens has developed improved methods to separate fats from protein meals to enable production of “low fat” meals for specialty pet food sales as well as recover greater amounts of high-value fats.

The second area of study proposed in 2003 was improving biosecurity of rendered products. Several ACREC researchers, including Drs. Paul Dawson, Xiuping Jiang, and Greene, have all worked on improving microbial food safety. Dawson and Greene have each contributed different aspects to the quest for establishing thermal death time, including creation of new scientific procedures to accurately answer the questions the industry needs related to thermal processing requirements for killing pathogens. Jiang has worked to elucidate whether Salmonella survives or re-contaminates finished product. She assisted in the Salmonella egg crisis that occurred a few years ago by validating that none of the pathogenic strains of Salmonella were present in typical rendering samples. Additionally, Jiang has isolated and is manipulating bacteriophages to make them effective Salmonella killing machines to assist the industry in preventing post-process contamination of products. Her laboratory also developed bacteriophage technologies to delay and/or prevent deadly hydrogen sulfide production in feathers and other tissues.

Greene, along with Drs. Thomas Scott, Adam Leaphart, and William Bridges Jr., and research associate Laine Chambers, determined the time and temperature processing requirements to destroy avian influenza ribonucleic acid and proved that rendering processes are sufficient for accomplishing this goal. Greene’s laboratory, with PhD students Melissa “Lissa” Hayes and Yubo Zhang, is building a database of thermal validation information for determining necessary thermal processing to kill pathogenic Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Dr. Joseph Thrasher is studying rendered products to ensure they are safe from chemical residues while Dr. Andrew Hurley has found new biodegradable polymers and developed improved bags to line rendering collection barrels. These new liners have proven more desirable by consumers and have the advantage of degrading into safe feed ingredients in the rendering cooker rather than contaminating products. Hurley’s improved biodegradable bags are reducing the industry’s difficulties caused by traditional polyethylene bags and is improving finished fat and protein quality and safety.

The third area of proposed research in 2003 was environmental protection, including better wastewater treatment methods and odor remediation. ACREC researcher Dr. Scott Husson is using advanced wastewater filtration methods to remove solids without the need for chemicals. Drs. Daniel Whitehead and Frank Alexis are working on cutting edge technology to reduce odor emissions by effectively destroying malodorants with biodegradable nanoparticles. Dr. David Bruce completed an energy life cycle analysis on the industry proving rendering is energy efficient while Dr. Charles Gooding developed a carbon footprint calculator for the rendering industry’s use to evaluate facilities and promote rendering as a green industry. Dr. James Goodwin studied new, improved solid acid catalysts to make biodiesel from high free fatty acid rendered lipids and to allow animal fats to more effectively compete in biodiesel production markets.

On the announcement for the discussion forum in 2003, it was stated that “establishment of a research center at Clemson University would allow creation of a network of on-campus researchers to solve the universal challenges facing the rendering industry.” This statement pre-dated the development of ACREC by three years. At that time, the center had not yet been named and plans on how to build the center were not yet devised. Those steps would evolve over the next three years when ACREC was officially launched. However, during that initial two-hour long discussion forum held on a Friday afternoon in a room packed with researchers, the vision that a team collaborating together could be of great benefit to the industry was formulated and the initial team was developed.

Since inception, ACREC has attracted more than 40 researchers from a variety of fields, including chemical engineering, microbiology, materials science and engineering, bioengineering, mechanical engineering, animal science, food science, packaging science, biological science, experimental statistics, chemistry, architecture, environmental engineering, automotive engineering, agricultural engineering, soils, turfgrass, environmental toxicology, horticulture, and computer science. All of those scientists are now aware of rendering and have a growing knowledge about the industry and its needs.

ACREC has created interdisciplinary teams to solve problems for the rendering industry, teams that need continual specific guidance on research requirements from renderers. Without guidance as to the industry’s needs, researchers are left guessing as to what would be most beneficial to renderers. However, when specific industry goals have been communicated, beneficial targeted research has been conducted by ACREC researchers. Additionally, since researchers want their research results to benefit the industry, it is hoped that improved efforts to promote the results and utilization of the research findings will continue and expand.

During the spring 2013 ACREC Research Committee meetings held in late April, 11 new pre-proposals were submitted for review by industry representatives. Of those, eight projects were not from researchers in traditional agricultural fields but from researchers at the Clemson University College of Engineering and Science. Those pre-proposals included chemists suggesting ways to convert animal fats into omega-3 fatty acids, to produce antimicrobials from animal proteins, to separate fats and proteins from wastewater, and to use highly complex nanoparticles to destroy odor compounds. Bioengineers submitted pre-proposals for producing carbon-based high performance dyes known as quantum dots and for ways to separate strong, value-added antioxidant compounds from rendered products.

Chemical engineers proposed continuing studies on wastewater treatment without chemicals and methods of enhancing separation of fats from animal protein meals. Researchers from the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences submitted proposals for expanding the biodegradable polymer studies into development of biodegradable gloves and liners for totes that could be cooked into the rendering materials with no hazardous consequences. During the spring meeting, FPRF members chose four of these 11 proposed projects for funding: (1) wastewater treatment without chemicals; (2) nanoparticles for odor remediation; (3) thermal death time; and (4) correlating water activity to pathogen survival in rendered products. These four projects will continue the vision first proposed in an initial discussion forum more than 10 years ago and will continue to resolve problems in areas of need for the rendering industry.

June 2013 RENDER | back