Research Paying off in the New Year

By Jessica Meisinger, Director of Education, Science, and Communication
Fats and Proteins Research Foundation

The New Year is off to an exciting start for Fats and Proteins Research Foundation (FPRF)-funded research. The portfolio is always changing as researchers come up with novel ideas and FPRF members discuss challenges that research could potentially solve.

One of FPRF’s main focus areas is new uses for rendered products. Dr. Mark Blenner at Clemson University is working to develop a bioprocess that will convert the fat in tallow to high-value and high-demand omega-3 fatty acids. One of the biggest factors inhibiting commercial fish production is the lack of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil that is dependent on a decreasing supply of small fish caught. Blenner is using a strain of yeast for the conversion, which is showing promising results. He believes that biosysthesis of these fatty acids could provide an economic, reliable, and sustainable alternative to traditionally used fish oil.

Another example of new use research is an automotive polymer being developed by Dr. Srikanth Pilla, also at Clemson University. The overarching objective of the project is to create high-strength, toughened, self-healing, cross-linked thermosets, and composites from proteinaceous materials from the rendering industry for performance-oriented applications. Pilla is a professor with the Clemson University Research Foundation, one of the most highly respected automotive programs in the United States (US). He is working on the addition of a self-healing capsule to the thermoset so the epoxy could recover, on its own, from scratches. Pilla points out this thermoset would be highly recyclable, leading to a considerably reduced environmental footprint and increasing the bio-friendliness and acceptance of the composite. This in turn will add value to rendered animal proteins.

Clemson University researchers Drs. Alexey Vertegel and Vladimir Reukov are also examining new uses for rendered products by developing a novel natural antioxidant that can be used in pet food and is comparable to commercially available antioxidants. The researchers currently are focusing on shelf-life studies to strengthen their new ingredient petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Vertegel and Reukov are also collaborating with Dr. Rafael Garcia at the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, who is using the waste product from the antioxidant production as a natural flocculent for wastewater.

One area of research important to both independent and packer members, as well as plants of all sizes, is rendering plant efficiency. Research is being conducted on water quality, odor, and other issues that are common to most rendering facilities.

The current rendering industry standard for wastewater treatment uses dissolved air flotation (DAF) to remove fats, proteins, and other suspended material from wastewater. The DAF process uses flocculants to aid the coagulation and removal of solids. DAF material is high in fat, which makes it a challenge to deal with. Dr. Christopher Kitchens at Clemson University is working on alternatives to polyacrylamide. If successful, this project has the potential to improve the rendering process by lowering the amount of fats and polyacrylamide in wastewater and provide the ability to recover those fats.

Two more Clemson researchers, Drs. David Ladner and Yi Zhang, are also focusing on improving wastewater by developing a field deployable system for testing different membranes. This project builds on previous FPRF-funded research that determined some membranes worked as well as added polymers or other additives at reducing fat in the wastewater system. These “pallet systems” could be used to field-test membranes in a plant environment and could be vital for scale-up.

Drs. Daniel Whitehead and Frank Alexis at Clemson are developing nanoparticles to deal with odor issues that are a common problem in most rendering plants. They have created the nanoparticles, tested them for selectivity of malodorants, determined they are nontoxic and biodegradable, and are working to optimize the synthesis of the materials on a greater scale. The researchers are also testing and refining the nanomaterials at the plant level rather than the benchtop, and performing an FPRF-funded project to determine if some of these nanoparticles exhibit antimicrobial properties.

“We envision that these novel materials might provide a safe and reliable method: (1) to decontaminate work surfaces at rendering sites [including raw material staging areas, raw material front-end loaders, raw-material trucks, and grease collection bins]; and (2) as a potential nontoxic additive or filter treatment for rendered products, especially fats, to prevent bacterial recontamination during trucking,” Whitehead and Alexis reported.

Dr. Greg Aldrich at Kansas State University is researching flow behavior and spray coating efficiency during the production of rendered protein meals so that antioxidants can be used in the most efficient manner. The project was intended to characterize the flow properties of animal protein meals by mathematically modeling the material as a bulk solid. The intent was to use this more explanatory approach in creating a baseline for future work and engineer a more ideal system to achieve optimized particle sizes, conveyance equipment, and topical application equipment.

FPRF has also co-funded several new projects with the Pet Food Institute and National Pork Board. Dr. Merlin Lindemann at the University of Kentucky is beginning to examine the effect of different fat sources and vitamin E on antioxidant status, carcass characteristics, and meat quality of pigs grown to a heavy slaughter weight. The researchers believe that fatty acid impacts on human health are an important area of research and the same ill-health effects of a diet high in n-6 fatty acids that exist in humans undoubtedly exist in pigs. This project will provide accurate, statistically-valid information about pig health and pork quality that will be increasingly meaningful as pigs are taken to heavy slaughter weights.

Drs. Valentina Trinetta, Cassandra Jones, and Aldrich, all at Kansas State University, are starting a project to identify the major factors impacting the presence of Salmonella in animal fat, which is pertinent for the continued use of this beneficial product by the pet food industry. The objective of this research is to identify the roles of moisture, storage temperature, contamination type, and contamination level on Salmonella species concentration over time. This research is vital to both the rendering and pet food industries as Salmonella is a major concern in feed safety.

FPRF has a novel portfolio of ongoing research. The focus is currently on rendering plant issues and novel, high-value non-feed uses for rendered ingredients. A number of multiyear research projects may turn into possibly patentable products so stay tuned.

February 2017 RENDER | back