Biovalorisation and Sustainability of Agrofood Products

In the present context of environmental sustainability, resource efficiency and bioeconomy, the importance of research on finding valuable and eco-friendly ways to use agricultural resources cannot be overstated. Lignocellulosic biomass, including agricultural residues and forestry by-products, represents a vast and underutilized resource that can be harnessed to produce high-value compounds. By implementing biorefinery processes, such as oxidative depolymerization of lignin, and green extraction methodologies such as supercritical extraction of natural compounds, the potential of biomass feedstocks, can be harnesses by transforming them into valuable products with diverse applications in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries. Moreover, valorisation of natural products and food wastes not only mitigates environmental pollution but also contributes to the circular economy by repurposing waste and lower grade products into valuable ingredients. Through these innovative approaches, Biovalorization and Sustainability of Agrofood Products play a pivotal role in promoting environmental stewardship, economic growth, and societal well-being. 

Significant strides have been done in the field of lignin valorisation through oxidative depolymerization, leading to the production of high-value compounds, such as aldehydes (vanillin and syringaldehyde) and acids (vanillin acid and syringic acid), obtained from the oxidation of lignins and liquors sourced from various origins. Additionally, the study explores lignin oxidative depolymerization towards C4-dicarboxylic acids, such as succinic and oxalic acids, with a focus on catalytic conversion by H2O2 oxidation. Furthermore, the fractionation and purification of added-value phenolic compounds resulting from alkaline oxidation of lignin were studied. Through a sequence of physical separation processes, including ultra- and nanofiltration membranes and adsorption using a polymeric resin, the study aims to recover vanillin and syringaldehyde from oxidatively depolymerized lignin solutions.

The potential of supercritical extraction using carbon dioxide (SFE-CO2) as a green technology for extracting aromas and bioactives from natural matrices has been studied. Research into the aroma of Thymus mastichina L. and bioactive compounds from Moringa oleifera L. highlight the versatility and efficacy of SFE-CO2 in extracting valuable ingredients for food and cosmetic applications, respectively.

Natural products and food wastes have been identified as rich sources for added-value molecules and explores their potential in producing aromas and bioactive ingredients with functional properties. By incorporating these extracts into bread and fortified fruit juices, the study showcases the potential for natural ingredients to enhance food products. Additionally, the development of versatile and efficient extraction/refining equipment, including systems for supercritical CO2 extraction and refining, is crucial for enabling the industrial production of natural ingredients.

Major projects in this research area include: