Project Olea to investigate processes to convert by-product of olive oil production
A new company has been founded to investigate processes to convert pomace, the by-product of olive oil production, into a sustainable and cost-effective material, ingredient, or food product.
"With my co-founders, Justine and Mark Cohen, we have founded a company we’ve called Project Olea," commented Rebecca Screnci, a consultant and research scientist in the field of biotechnology, who has previously pioneered cultivated meat research in Australia. She is now pursuing her passion for sustainability within food-tech by becoming a part of Project Olea where she is leading the scientific R&D to create a circular economy within agricultural waste streams, starting with olive pomace.
"We’re working on building a circular economy within Australia’s olive industry. ‘Olea’ is latin for olive so we thought the name was fitting, and we see the challenge as a problem-solving project, hence the ‘Project’," she noted.
"Throughout the journey of building a consulting business, I’ve met many inspiring and wonderful people along the way," Screnci explained in a recent blog, announcing the initiative. "Two of those people are Mark and Justine, who approached me to be part of the SproutX pre-accelerator program that they had been accepted into and to form a business together. The focus of the program is agtech, and it just-so-happened that we have access to one of Australia’s largest agricultural waste products –olive pomace. We set out with an aim to create a circular economy with olive pomace waste, and with this idea, Project Olea became a reality."
Olive pomace is the green olive waste that is a by-product of the olive oil production process. Olives are pressed for oil, and what is left becomes a huge issue for olive millers. Firstly, it is a low-value resource that is very wet, making logistics, transport and storage challenging and costly. What currently happens to that waste? There are a couple of predominant usages that are, again, low value and high effort for the olive millers: it can be burned for fuel; it can be treated and added to livestock feed; and it t can be composted, but at a detriment to the soil (it is phytotoxic and not great for the soil).
"Despite a global shift toward building sustainable systems, very few solutions exist that are worth the effort to repurpose the waste," Screnci said. "Having said that, our research shows that olive farmers desperately want technology that can help valorize their waste product and reduce their overall wastage."
Between 2020 and 2022, the volume of olives harvested in Australia ranged between 50,000 and 130,000 tons per annum. The harvest season lasts for three months, adding to the issue of huge quantities of olive waste within a short timespan, creating headaches for olive oil processors.
This is exactly what Project Olea’s purpose and mission is; to utilize innovative biotechnology and elevate waste up the food hierarchy.
"Our research has already been fruitful in that we have uncovered some great applications for this ancient food, and will be applying this knowledge, addressing potential markets and focusing on the sustainability of any operations we undertake," Screnci explained.
"Technology has come a long way in recent decades, so it is our belief that now is the time to take on this challenge. We have access to state-of-the-art technology, there is a global push toward sustainable agriculture and circular economies within food production, and we see it as an opportunity to make a difference. Just imagine 130,000 tons of food going to waste every year, when 43 million people in 38 countries across the globe are at risk of falling into famine or a severe hunger crisis. Solving the waste problem for olives feels like a no brainer and it will only put us in a position to apply our strategy to many more agricultural by-products."
If you, or anyone you know would be interested in collaborating with Project Olea on this challenge, reach out to any of the team through the website and they'll be happy to bring in many great minds to make the most effective use of this opportunity
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