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  December 2015 
WIST project will evaluate potato processing waste as source for "green" chemicals
Could bring new income source to producers and processors

Potato harvesting and processing operations generate large quantities of "residuals" - peels, vines and other material - that currently are seen to have little value at best and generate waste-handling expense at worst. That perspective could change with a new project getting underway at WIST. 

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) has awarded WIST $11,848 to extract antioxidants from potato peels. 

Many people are familiar with antioxidants in the context of their reputed health benefits. Certain vegetables and fruits are known to be high in these natural chemicals. What is less generally known is that antioxidants play a significant role in many non-food industrial uses. Their functions include heat stabilization in plastics processing, and stability to light for product preservation in items such as cosmetics.

Antioxidants derived from natural materials may have a market advantage compared to synthetically derived chemicals with similar effects, according to Paul Fowler, WIST executive director. 

"The market for so-called green chemicals is growing annually at a rate of over 10 percent," Fowler said. "Established companies such as Dow Chemical and DuPont, as well as new players such as Gevo and Myriant, have diversified or built their businesses on the back of this megatrend." 

Fowler noted that the price of "greener" materials must still be competitive with traditional counterparts. Besides characterizing the antioxidant content of potato peels, WIST will evaluate and select extraction methods that appear most promising for economic viability. 

Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the WPVGA, said the growers' association each year funds a number of projects aimed at improving long-term prospects for their industry. "We looked at this proposal from WIST as an innovative idea with a lot of promise," Houlihan said. "The member-growers are excited by the possibilities of this new research partnership." 

Fowler said the WVPGA-funded project is one aspect of a larger objective at the institute to explore opportunities for value-added uses of agricultural harvesting and processing residuals. WIST has a project underway with Okray Family Farms in Plover to determine the viability of extracting the health supplement resveratrol from cold climate grapes. The institute is also exploring a number of similar, value-from-waste projects.
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