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Whey2GOs – Direct Valorisation of Whey project with Saputo Dairy UK: Pilot Units Ready for Scaling

With the support of the Resource Action Fund, Activatec embarked on an ambitious Whey2Go project with Saputo Dairy UK (formerly Dairy Crest) to convert whey food waste into value. Using direct valorisation, scalable pilot units are now ready to produce GOS.

Globally, over 180 million tonnes of whey is produced as a by-product of the cheese-making industry. While a certain amount of this waste is used in the production of low-grade animal feed, the Whey2Go project set out to create a high-value product to maximize the nutritional value of the waste product. Dovetailing with the UK government’s drive to ensure that no food goes to waste, it has been a privilege to be involved in this important project.

With an end goal of producing valuable substrates from the family of molecules known as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – an important dietary prebiotic that exert beneficial effects on intestinal microbiota and gut barrier function – it is beneficial to extract these bio-based products from waste material. The key to the project was finding best practices to ensure that the conversion of the waste product through the process of valorisation is financially viable.

The valorisation process has now been definitively resolved with the development of pilot units, ready to be scaled up to full production. The prototype effectively uses three processes:

· Lactose concentration from whey permeate

· Lactose conversion to GOS (which is the usable product)

· GOS purification

A UF/NF system – with a 0.32m² spiral membrane which was supplied by Sterlitech (USA) pilot unit was developed and has been subjected to robust testing.

Figure 1: Activatec’s pilot UF/NF system

As whey permeate is composed of 93% water, obtaining concentrated lactose was achieved before any other processes could occur. While four several processes exist to produce food-grade lactose, membrane filtration was preferred in the goal to produce a GOS as commercially viable product.

Working with the University of Nottingham and Saputo Dairy UK, we performed a techno-economic and environmental analysis of the GOS production process with liquid whey as feedstock to ensure that the prototypes would be feasible and environmentally beneficial.

After the enzyme reaction using lactose to produce GOS, testing and assessment using the NF system followed until the purity results were satisfactory. The Figure 2 below indicates our results.

Figure 2: Rejection performance vs VCF (volumetric concentration factor) of the Synder NFG Spiral Membrane starting from 1.8 L Whey Permeate GOS obtained by Saputo Dairy UK during its pilot trial

With the design and build phases complete, the Whey2Go prototypes can now make a game-changing contribution to prebiotic products derived from lactose – while ensuring that the historical wastage associated with the cheese-making industry is also addressed. This is pivotal to the production of a number of consumer goods – such as infant formula, but the variety of uses is extensive.

Completing a rewarding project – with the valued support of the Resource Action Fund – and the able assistance of Saputo Dairy UK, the Whey2GO unit is now looking towards the future, finding new applications and business models to leverage the essential role it will play in the valorisation of whey.

High-value products – taking into account all important environmental considerations, can be distributed through this new technology, that has demonstrated the savings in energy and money. At the same time, one of the key policy outcomes of the Research Action fund – food waste prevention, will be key for our planet and provides marketing opportunities for trailblazers looking to invest in the development of this unit.

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