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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Albany, California » Western Regional Research Center » Bioproducts Research » Research » Research Project #427364

Research Project: Bioproducts from Agricultural Feedstocks

Location: Bioproducts Research

2017 Annual Report

The demand for agricultural feedstocks is growing as global demand for food is ever increasing and efforts mount to create alternatives to petroleum products that feed global warming. The goal of this project plan is to use biopolymers to develop sustainable technologies and bioproducts that will benefit the U.S. and that will not negatively impact food reserves. This plan highlights the use of nonfood fibers and crop waste to create new bioproducts and help improve the efficiency in utilizing agricultural commodities via the following objectives: Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial value-added biobased materials. a. Utilize conventional and novel processing technologies to produce and characterize nanofibers from biopolymers and investigate potential applications. b.Utilize biopolymers to encapsulate/deliver beneficial soil microbes that improve crop production. Objective 2: Enable new commercial materials based on biopolymers and biobased fillers. a. Develop fiber-reinforced composite materials. b. Develop value-added bioproducts from torrefied crop waste. c. Develop value-added bioproducts from almond, grape and citrus waste.

The overarching approach will be to provide data, technology and prototypes that will not only result in novel bioproducts but also address important agricultural needs including the need for higher crop production, the need for more sustainable farming practices, the need for alternatives to petroleum-based products and the need for new innovations such as nanotechnology. The first approach is development of composite materials that encapsulate beneficial microbes to be used to reduce the inputs of conventional fertilizers and petroleum-based pesticides. A co-development as part of this approach is production of humic acid from renewable resources such as torrefied crop waste to augment soil health. Humates will be used as soil amendments to improve soil fertility and crop production. Also, nanofibers from aqueous solutions of biopolymers will be made and characterized by developing new processes to make nanofibers from a wide array of biopolymers. Bioproducts made using the nanofibers will include controlled-release devices and sensors. Objective 2 is aimed at developing bioproducts from nonfood agricultural products, namely plant fibers and crop waste. The group will apply expertise in dispersing plant fibers in biopolymer matrices and in inorganic binders. The anticipated bioproducts developed in Objective 2a include compression molded food service products containing more than 60% fiber using biopolymers as binders. We will also create lightweight rigid foam products by dispersing plant fibers in inorganic binders including Portland cement and gypsum. California has one of the most diverse agricultural industries in the world and ranks first in production in terms of cash receipts ($43 billion), but also leads in the output of crop waste and residues. Diverse agricultural byproducts such as almond hulls, grape pomace, citrus peel waste, etc., which are concentrated at processing plants and often carry a cost for disposal, will be converted into higher value products. Objectives 2b, and 2c specifically address this need. The anticipated products include black filler for PET plastics and pelletized coal dust made using inexpensive biopolymer binders such as citrus waste and gums from almond hulls. Other bioproducts include essential oils and antioxidants extracted from seeds processed from grape pomace.

Progress Report
Objective 1a: Utilize conventional and novel processing technologies to produce and characterize nanofibers from biopolymers and investigate potential applications. Nanofibers were made containing the silica compound tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil. Ceramic nanofibers were made by thermal treatment of the fibers at 500 degrees Celsius (C) with limited nitrogen. The surface area of the ceramic nanofibers was measured by Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) analysis. The ceramic nanofibers had extremely high surface area which helped them function well in absorbing model compounds from aqueous solutions. The end goal is to develop filters that can be used to purify contaminated water. Objective 1b: Utilize biopolymers to encapsulate/deliver beneficial soil microbes that improve crop production. Field trials on treatments with beneficial soil microbes were completed. While some treatments seemed to offer benefit, the results were not consistent from plot to plot. There was a considerable amount of variation even among the control samples. Part of the challenge with the field plots was that there was sufficient residual soil fertility from prior season fertilizer applications that little additional fertilizer was needed to produce good yields. In such cases, microbial treatments and fertilizer applications do not provide strong positive results. We were able to conduct tests on plots with poor residual soil fertility. With these plots, the fertilizer applications significantly increased crop yields. A fertilizer response curve was generated that initially showed a nearly linear increase in production with increasing amounts of fertilizer. The fertilizer response curve leveled off eventually with additional fertilizer as the soil reached optimal fertility levels. We were unable to establish a microbial treatment response curve comparable to the fertilizer response curve. There was no evidence that the microbial treatments significantly improved crop yield no matter the fertilizer level. In spite of the limited effectiveness of the microbial treatments, the encapsulation media we developed for field application of beneficial soil microbes seemed to be successful. Tests showed that microbes encapsulated in granules remained viable. The ineffectiveness of the treatments appeared to be due to either a dosage related issue or that the microbes themselves were not effective in the field. The field treatments tested included liquid applications, as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. The result was the same for both the liquid application method and the application of encapsulated microbes. This result suggests the issue is with the effectiveness of the microbes themselves, rather than whether the application was a liquid product or an encapsulated microbial product. There was progress with the cooperative research between ARS and Flozyme. Flozyme was having issues in shipping liquid product to distribution sites. Bottles of microbial product were swelling up and some of the container seals were popping open. The headspace in such containers was analyzed by gas chromatography (GC) and found to contain carbon dioxide. The results confirmed that unwanted fermentation was occurring in liquid product containers during shipment. Flozyme was able to avoid such issues by shipping their product in a dry form which then was reconstituted at the destination location. Objective 2a: Develop fiber-reinforced composite materials. A starch-based fiber-reinforced composite material was made by dispersing fiber in an aqueous polymer preparation. The composition was mixed thoroughly and granular starch was added. The viscous composition was then heated to gelatinize the starch component. Further mixing was effective in completely dispersing the fiber component in the composition. Finally, an inorganic filler was added and the composition was further mixed. The viscous mixture was formed into sheets and dried to a moisture content below 20 percent. The sheets were flexible and easily molded in a heated press onto a shallow article, such as a plate. This process is of commercial interest, because the molding time is less than ten seconds and can be easily scaled to commercial production. Further research is being done to confer moisture resistance to the finished article. Progress has been made in developing a solution that can be sprayed onto a fiber composition to confer moisture and oil resistance. Moisture and oil resistance are key properties of commercial food service articles. Three patent disclosures have been submitted to protect this technology. Objective 2b: Develop value-added bioproducts from torrefied crop waste. Funding has been procured from the Almond Board of California and California Walnut Board to obtain torrefaction capabilities at our facility. A torrefier is a roasting oven used to convert biomass to biochar. This system is being constructed and installed in one of the campus out-buildings so that it can be used to convert, for example, almond shells into an additive in commercial plastics. Commercial grinding capabilities have been located to mill torrefied almond and walnut shells to approximately 0.04 millimeters (mm). A commercial partner has been identified to test the torrefied filler in commercial plant pots. The mechanical and functional properties of the plastics filled with torrefied shells will be evaluated to help optimize the process.

1. Environmentally friendly “starter” charcoal. Millions of consumers use lighter fluid to light their charcoal for cooking, thereby contributing to the level of volatile organic compounds in the air around residential neighborhoods. ARS scientists in Albany, California, developed a porous charcoal material that can be easily lit without lighter fluid. The “starter” briquettes can be used to ignite traditional briquettes without the use of lighter fluid. This patented technology will help consumers comply with regional air districts’ recommendations to reduce air polluting activities when air alerts are issued.

2. Wheat gluten-based foams as replacements for petroleum-derived foams. Most foams used in packaging and manufacturing applications are produced from petroleum derived sources and are not biodegradable. Consequently, they accumulate in landfills and can be hazardous to marine life. ARS researchers at Albany, California, have developed a high temperature process to quickly produce biodegradable wheat gluten-based foams with comparable material properties to synthetic foams. Some additives, such as cellulose fibers, minerals, zein, and other biodegradable polymers were incorporated into the foams to vary their material properties. These gluten foams can then serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic foams in packaging, manufacturing, and building applications.

Review Publications
Arantes, A.C., Almeida, C.G., Dauzacker, L.C., Bianchi, M., Wood, D.F., Williams, T.G., Orts, W.J., Tonoli, G.H. 2017. Renewable hybrid nanocatalyst from magnetite and cellulose fortreatment of textile effluents. Carbohydrate Polymers. 163:101-107. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2017.01.007.
Bilbao-Sainz, C., Chiou, B., Valenzuela-Medina, D., Imam, S.H., Vega-Galvez, A., Orts, W.J. 2016. Biopolymer films to control fusarium dry rot and their application to preserve potato tubers. Journal of Applied Polymer Science. doi:10.1002/app.44017.
Maoshen, C., Liu, F., Chiou, B., Sharif, H.R., Xu, J., Zhong, F. 2017. Characterization of film-forming solutions and films incorporating free and nanoencapsulated tea polyphenol prepared by gelatins with different Bloom values. Food Hydrocolloids. 72(72):381-388. doi: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2017.05.001.
Dominguez-Martinez, B.M., Martinez-Flores, H., Berrios, J.D., Otoni, C.G., Wood, D.F., Velazquez, G. 2016. Physical characterization of biodegradable films based on chitosan, polyvinyl alcohol and Opuntia mucilage. Journal of Polymers and the Environment. 25(3):683-691.
Hsia, M., O'Malley, R., Cartwright, A., Nieu, R., Gordon, S., Kelly, S., Williams, T.G., Wood, D.F., Zhao, Y., Bragg, J.N., Jordan, M., Pauly, M., Ecker, J., Gu, Y.Q., Vogel, J.P. 2017. Sequencing and functional validation of the JGI Brachypodium distachyon T-DNA collection. Plant Journal. doi: 10.1111/tpj.13582.
Liu, F., Avena-Bustillos, R.D., Chiou, B., Li, Y., Ma, Y., Williams, T.G., Wood, D.F., McHugh, T.H., Zhong, F. 2016. Controlled-release of tea polyphenol from gelatin films incorporated with different ratios of free/nanoencapsulated tea polyphenols into fatty food simulants. Food Hydrocolloids Journal. 62:212-221. doi:10.1016/j.foodhyd.2016.08.004.
Liu, F., Chiou, B., Avena Bustillos, R.D., Zhang, Y., Li, Y., McHugh, T.H., Zhong, F. 2016. Study of combined effects of glycerol and transglutaminase on properties of gelatin films. Food Hydrocolloids. 65:1-9. doi:10/1016/j.foodhyd.2016.10.004.
Lopez, J., Vega-Galvez, A., Bilbao-Sainz, C., Chiou, B., Uribe, E., Quispe-Fuentes, I. 2017. Influence of vacuum drying temperature on: physico-chemical composition and antioxidant properties of murta berries. Journal of Food Process Engineering. 40(6):e12569.
Mesquita, R.G., Cesar, A.A., Mendes, R.F., Mendes, L.M., Marconcini, J.M., Glenn, G.M., Tonoli, G.H. 2016. Polyester composites reinforced with corona-treated fibers from pine, eucalyptus and sugarcane bagasse. Journal of Polymers and the Environment. doi: 10.1007/s10924-016-0864-6.
Nepomuceno, N.C., Santos, A.S., Oliveira, J.E., Glenn, G.M., Medeiros, E.S. 2016. Extraction and characterization of cellulose nanowhiskers from Mandacaru (Cereus jamacaru DC.) spines. Cellulose. 24(1)119-129. doi: 10.1007/s10570-016-1109-5.
Osorio-Ruiz, A., Solorzza-Feria, J., Chiou, B., Wood, D.F., Williams, T.G., Avena-Bustillos, R.D., Martinez-Ayala, A. 2016. Effect of montmorillonite clay addition on the morphological and physical properties of Jatropha curcas L. and Glycine max L. protein concentrate films. Journal of Applied Polymer Science. doi:10.1002/app.44459.
Palma-Rodriguez, H.M., Berrios, J.D., Glenn, G.M., Salgado-Delgado, R., Aparicio-Saguilian, A., Rodriguez-Hernandez, A., Vargas-Torres, A. 2015. Effect of the storage conditions on mechanical properties and microstructure of biodegradabel baked starch foams. CyTA - Journal of Food. 14(3):415-422. doi: 10.1080/19476337.2015.1117142.
Si, Y., Cossu, A., Nitin, N., Ma, Y., Zhao, C., Chiou, B., Cao, T., Wang, D., Sun, G. 2017. Mechanically robust and transparent N-halamine grafted PVA-co-PE films with renewable antimicrobial activity. Macromolecular Bioscience. doi: 10.1002/mabi.201600304.
Bilbao-Sainz, C., Chiou, B., Williams, T.G., Wood, D.F., Du, W., Sedej, I., Ban, Z., Rodov, V., Poverenov, E., Vinokur, Y., McHugh, T.H. 2017. Vitamin D-fortified chitosan films from mushroom waste. Carbohydrate Polymers. 167(2017):97-104. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2017.03.010.