Converting fruit waste to wealth

India is one of the largest producers of fruit-based products. However, a huge quantity of the raw material as well as the produce ends up getting wasted.

This waste contains many valuable components that get lost during disposal or landfilling. In order to address this concern, researchers worldwide are seeking sustainable processing methods which would have minimal environmental impact.

One such researcher is Jhumur Banerjee, who is working at the IITB-Monash Research Academy on a project titled, 'Converting waste to wealth: Biobased economy from fruit waste' under the supervision team of Prof Amit Arora, Prof Antonio Patti, Prof Douglas MacFarlane and Dr R Vijayaraghavan.

The Academy, which operates a graduate research program in Mumbai, is a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University. Research is conducted by scholars in both countries, while studying for a dually-badged PhD from both organisations.

Fig. 1 Fruit processing and disposal of bulk waste into land (Dapoli, Maharashtra)

Says Jhumur, "My research relates directly to the stakeholders—farmers, processors, food researchers, and industries. Compared to waste generated from cereals, fruit residues are rich in bioactives like polyphenolics. These can be linked further to applications like food additives, chemical intermediates, pharmaceutical leads, natural preservatives, flavouring agents, dietary fibre-based applications, etc."

"Unfortunately," she adds, "fruit processing industries have so far tended to neglect the potential of leftover residues. I plan to develop a green extraction method-based biorefinery for fruit wastes. We will try to recover products like starch, pectin, oils, proteins and phenolics from the raw materials. Our ultimate aim is to create a biorefinery for horticultural waste through which we would be able to link more than one industry.

The biorefinery approach outcomes for fruit waste look exciting as predicted calculations suggest recovery of bioactive worth >$81 million from 0.3 million tonnes of mango waste processing in India which is the total waste generated after 2% of total fruit production (APEDA, 2015). Some of these wastes—like mango seeds, jackfruit seeds, and watermelon rind—are also rich in protein. The biorefinery, thus, may also help in recovery of these proteins and ultimately this could be used as a low-cost additive in food products which is important for developing countries where protein deficiency is one of the major reasons for malnutrition in kids.

Fig. 2 Waste-to-wealth conversion

Jhumur is convinced that sustainable technology will help bridge the gap between the food and pharmaceutical industries, and thus promote entrepreneurship. Prime examples of this, she points out, are BASF's bio-based polyamides, as well as Merck, GSK and Nestle's recent projects on using biomass as feedstock for energy generation.

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is among those watching Jhumur's work with keen interest. "The Academy provides an opportunity for industry in Australia and India, as well as for IIT Bombay and Monash University, to train the next generation of rich talent in India. The Academy, therefore, has the potential to be a significant research institution. Talent from the Academy should become much sought after around the globe."

We hope industries worldwide will soon be able to enjoy the fruits of Jhumur's labour.

Research scholar: Jhumur Banerjee, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Converting waste to wealth: Biobased economy from fruit waste

Supervisors: Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Antonio Patti, Prof. Douglas MacFarlane

Contact details: jhumurbanerjee@iitb.ac.in

This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.