The project aims to expand the use and enhancement of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and its parts, through the optimization of an integrated process for the production of proteins for human nutrition, protein feeds, nutraceuticals, products fibrosis, bioplastics, biofuels.
The project offers agricultural producers in the FVG a new value chain for local products that makes versatility its strong point.
In this period, the agricultural sector is going through a rather stormy phase in our region, linked to the continuous decline in product prices and the uncertainty of prices in the market. Alfalfa is a crop that adapts perfectly to the climate of our region and that integrates synergistically with traditional crops such as corn, wheat and various cereals. The possibility of producing products required by the local market at competitive prices (such as protein feeds and vegetable fibers) together with products with high added value such as functional proteins and nutraceutical active ingredients represents an interesting innovation for the sector that could guarantee better remuneration for operators.
By combining these processes with the production of bioplastics or innovative thermal insulation materials, it would even be possible to guarantee companies in the sector remuneration levels per cultivated hectare currently reserved only for the wine sector.
The proposed process offers considerable environmental advantages deriving from the fundamental specificities of alfalfa compared to other agricultural crops destined for the production of proteins, such as soy and corn.
The multi-year duration of the cultivation of alfalfa represents an important factor in reducing environmental impacts and even more important is the practically zero need for pesticides and pesticides, in this period in which pollinating insects are subjected to strong stress.
From this point of view, in the case of alfalfa we can talk about the cultivation of an ecosystem rather than a single plant and it is also to increase respect for this ecosystem that on the sidelines of the project different techniques for harvesting the product will be tested in the field.
The agronomic advantages of medica have been known for thousands of years and the protein yield per hectare is among the best, but the biomass yield per hectare is also very interesting. The integrated process developed in the project allows fundamental synergies in terms of reduction of transport costs because it makes fibrous residues from protein extraction available at an absolutely competitive cost, which lend themselves to the numerous uses highlighted above.
The combination of protein and nutraceutical productions with that of cellulose-based bioplastics, in particular acetates, appears to be particularly promising from an environmental point of view.
Currently the only process available on the market for the extraction of proteins and pectin present in alfalfa leaves involves the simple pressing of the leaves to obtain a juice from which the mixed protein fraction is collected by coagulation, together with vitamins, pectins. and various substances found in alfalfa. This product is then dried and takes the name of EFL. In 2009, EFSA authorized the use of this product as a food additive by setting a daily limit of only 10g due to the presence of allergenic substances, antinutrients, etc.
From 2016 to 2019 Contento Trade led the EuroTransBioAlfapro project together with partners Almi (AT) and Vivacell (D) during which an integrated process was defined for the processing of fresh alfalfa.
The basic goal of the project is the development of a process and a prototype of a plant for the extraction and separation of plant materials that does not generate waste, but only products that can be exploited, completely sustainable and profitable from an economic point of view, with minimal environmental impact.
It is a real biorefinery based on fresh alfalfa where enzymes replace the catalysts in a green, circular and zero-kilometer economy perspective.
The measurable project objectives are as follows:
– Treatment capacity of the pilot plant >= 20 kg / h of fresh alfalfa
– Process costs in pilot plant < = 100 euro / ton medical dry
– Process residues <= 3%
– Minimum yield of green proteins > = 300 kg / ton medical dry
– Minimum protein concentration in green proteins >= 35%
– Minimum white protein yield > = 120 kg / ton medical dry
– Minimum protein concentration in white proteins > = 75%
– Pesticide concentration in white proteins: below the detection threshold
– Density of thermal insulating fibrous panel < = 250 kg / m3
– Thermal conductivity of thermal insulating fibrous < = 0.045 W / mK.
– Fire reaction class > = E (Bs1d0 with plaster layer)
This project is divided into five phases:
• Phase 1 – Optimization of the integrated process in the laboratory
The basic integrated process developed as part of the Eurotransbio project requires an important phase of optimization and verification at the laboratory level both to improve yields and to verify the effects of seasonal variability on the quality and quantity of the materials produced.
These aspects will be studied in depth during phase 1 of the project where the techniques for the separation of green from white proteins and the techniques for the purification of white proteins that can significantly improve the yield and economic value of these will also be studied and optimized. semi-finished products.
• Phase 2 – Design, construction and commissioning of a pilot plant for the production of semi-finished products
This phase will be dedicated to the design, construction and start-up of a pilot plant capable of processing about 20 kg / h of fresh alfalfa obtaining the various semi-finished products (stems, short fibers, green proteins, white proteins, soluble extract).
• Phase 3 – Study, development and validation of optimized products obtained starting from semi-finished products
This phase will concern the optimization of the transformation processes of the semi-finished products obtained with the pilot plant. Thermal insulation panels and mats will be produced, protein feeds, protein preparations for human use, nutraceutical formulations, biogas and granulates for bioplastics. Representative samples of the materials produced will be tested by laboratories and specialized companies to validate their characteristics and evaluate their market potential.
• Phase 4 – Technical-economic-environmental validation of the developed process
The activities planned in this phase will essentially consist in the preparation of mass and energy balances of the various processes developed and tested at the pilot plant to identify the most efficient and profitable ones. Preliminary technical feasibility studies and environmental assessments with LCA techniques will be carried out for the best selected processes. At the same time, preliminary studies will also be carried out on the potential market of the products obtainable with the by-products considered in order to draw up an assessment of the economic feasibility of the processes.
• Phase 5 – Project management and promotion of results
This last phase of the project will be dedicated to project management, monitoring activities, drafting reports and managing relations with the FVG officials. In this phase, the activities planned for the promotion of the project results will also be carried out, based primarily on targeted contacts with sector operators, seminars and workshops between subjects belonging to the different areas involved in the project (from the agricultural sector to the construction).
The project obtained a contribution of € 57,023.16 of POR FESR 2014-2020 resources. Activity 1.2.a.1, broken down as follows: