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OU space expertise to analyse food waste powders

People pouring powders into a glass jar

OU expertise which has led to the development of mass spectrometers used to monitor space environments will now be used to analyse food waste powders.

Under the national SPRINT business support programme, which provides businesses with unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities, the OU will work with Nutrapharma, a Lincoln-based SME, to develop novel powder products for the nutraceutical sector.

Turning food waste into premium products

Nutraceuticals are any substance that is a food or part of a food and provides medical or health benefits. Nutrapharma believes that focusing on previously discarded, but nutritionally valuable, products can boost food sustainability by developing new, premium products, rich in fibre, nutrients and nutraceuticals, for food and food ingredient companies. 

Nutrapharma will collaborate with the OU to identify specific compounds present in powders generated from food waste. This will enable the company to be the first to market in the nutraceutical sector to apply this process to local produce.

Space spectrometry adapted to analyse food waste

The OU will provide Nutrapharma with the laboratory facilities and expertise to conduct these processes. These include laboratory assay development and novel analytical methods, utilising the OU’s portfolio of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), comprehensive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCXGC-MS) and liquid chromatography -mass spectrometry (LC-MS) systems. These spectrometers are usually used to “sniff” space environments for gases and will now be adapted to assess the feasibility of turning food waste into new premium products.

Commercial exploitation of space expertise

The project will be funded by a grant from the £5 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme. SPRINT helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

Dr Eric Hilton, CEO of Nutrapharma said: "We’ve worked with universities a lot, both in commercial and research fields. After an initial, opportune meeting at an industry event, we were keen to find out more about the OU’s expertise in mass spectrometry and how this could support our analysis of food waste powders.

“SPRINT will give us opportunity to validate our ideas with expert research and facilities from the OU team. With so much food wasted or undervalued in today’s society, we can help local farmers and food production companies across the UK by maximising the viability of a new range of nutraceutical products.”

Dr Geraint Huw Morgan from the School of Physical Sciences at the OU added: “Having met Eric at a virtual STFC Food Network2.0 sandpit, I was struck by how similar our approaches were to R&D and product commercialisation. It also became instantly clear that one of my existing commercial collaborators, in the SPRINT programme, could provide Eric with the missing step in his commercial route-to-market. 

“Having developed the value proposition further through this SPRINT proposal - we are excited at the opportunity to develop bespoke mass spec methods with a view to, hopefully, confirming the commercial viability of turning food waste powders in to valuable nutraceuticals, to the benefit of UK farmers and UK food producers.”

Read more about OU research in space

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