Starch Events 2024

February 06th 2024

Starch Events 2024.

12th Starch Value Chain Asia
February 27-29 2024
Vientiane, Laos

75th Starch Convention
April 09-10 2024
Detmold, Germany

Starch Expo 2024
June 19-21 2024
Shanghai, China

7th EU Starch Value Chain Europe
October 2024
Location to be determined

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Turkey’s Tosmur Pours EUR 75 mln to Double Starch Production Capacity in Romania

January 18th 2024

Turkey’s Tosmur pours EUR 75 mln to double starch production capacity in Romania.

Turkish group Tosmur, which opened a starch factory in eastern Romania at Medgidia in 2022, will invest another EUR 75 million (including a EUR 28 million state grant) to double the factory’s production capacity.

Medgidia, Romania

“Now we process 400 tonnes of maize/corn per day [the factory’s full capacity] and sell the starch in 75 countries,” said Arslan Ozgun, the general director of Omnia Europe – the Romanian subsidiary of the Turkish group.

In 2023, the Romanian factory’s business amounted to EUR 98 million, according to Ziarul Financiar.

The Tosmur Group is controlled by Turkish businessman Fatih Tosmur and is involved in the production of starch.


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More Value From The Oil Palm Thanks To Starch

December 13th 2023

Starch from oil palm trunks for food and non-food applications to reduce oil palm footprint.

Oil palms appear not only to be a source of palm oil, they can also contain large amounts of other valuable substances, such as starch. However, the palm oil industry is often accompanied by undesirable deforestation. That is why Wageningen University & Research is conducting research with PalmStarch into extracting starch from the trunk of the palm tree. So that the oil palm will yield more than oil, and less land will be needed for the production of other starch-containing crops. This could be a step towards a more sustainable oil palm industry.

Project leader and researcher Ben van den Broek explains why a study like PalmStarch is so important: “Those plantations are already there, forests were often cut down for them decades ago. We cannot reverse this, but we can use the plantations much better and more sustainably. Within the SustainPalm program, we work with Indonesian partners on all kinds of innovative measures to make palm oil extraction more sustainable. One option is to get more out of the whole oil palm, which means less land is needed and no forest clearing is needed in other places. We are investigating this in PalmStarch.”

When an oil palm plantation becomes old and produces less oil, it is cut down and farmers usually leave the trees on the land. These pieces then serve as nutrition for the soil. This is of course quite a circular approach, but the effect on healthy soil is limited: nutrients are largely washed away, and sugars and starch decay. Just like the rest of the trunk. While there is still value to be gained from that. Using some of these trunks therefore hardly has any negative consequences for the soil, but it does save on other cultivation and provides useful products.

Parts of the trunk are already used for veneer production (sheet material), but it also contains a lot of starch that is now lost. “If you can also extract some starch from the old palm trunk, you don’t have to plant another field of cassava or potatoes, for example,” Van den Broek explains. “We estimate that there is about 5 tons of starch in the trunks per hectare. Previous research shows that this is easy to extract, because it is concentrated in the upper part of the trunk, where the content is approximately the same as in starch potatoes.” This is not possible and not necessary for all trunks. Van den Broek: “It is becoming too labor intensive to extract starch from all the trunks. In addition, not all trunks contain the same amount of starch. So you only want to work with the palms that contain the most starch.”

But how do you know which palm can be used for starch and which cannot? Van den Broek and his colleagues are working on a measuring device that indicates within a few seconds whether there is a lot or little starch in it. Van den Broek: “You have to be able to decide quickly: leave it or take it with you?” Avoiding delay is also important for isolating the starch. “If we leave it for too long, the starch is converted into glucose sugars,” explains Van den Broek. “Starch has more value than glucose, although glucose can be used to make sugar (gula). We are also researching this in the SustainPalm program.”

The project is also investigating the most effective way to extract starch from the palm. That’s not that easy. Van den Broek: “There is a lot of silica in the palm trunk. This causes the equipment to wear out faster. Think of cleavers that quickly become blunt.” At the end of this project, the researchers hope to have found a solution for this too. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a mobile factory that produces starch in plantations that are being replanted. This can then be moved to a next location.

One of the reasons Van den Broek is so enthusiastic about this project is its application. “We can make several products from this starch, such as ingredients for food and biopolymers for packaging material. It is also used for breeding insects. How wonderful if, in Malaysia, for example, they can use their own starch for this without additional land demands. But also that we have discovered a new source of starch that has different properties, and therefore also potential for all kinds of new applications.”

This research is carried out on behalf of TKI-AgriFood, and is a collaboration between Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, Bio-tec, Ebbens B.V., PaperFoam, Profina Plywood, Tate & Lyle Solutions and PT Bio Cycle Indo.


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Starch-Derived Absorbent Could Help Reduce Diaper Garbage

November 15th 2023

Biodegradable super absorbent polymer made from starch.

A scientist here says he has developed an inexpensive, biodegradable super absorbent polymer (SAP) derived from starch that could help resolve the growing environmental problem concerning disposable diapers.

The starch and a natural organic compound that can be found in such items as lemons are mixed with a tiny amount of water to perfect the SAP, which can be broken down by micro-organisms, he said.

Biodegradable super absorbent polymer made from starch.

The technology of Hiroshi Uyama, a polymer chemistry professor at Osaka University, can absorb water and artificial urine up to 20 times the original weight of the substance.

“I previously tested other materials, but their costs were 100 times or so higher,” Uyama said. “The latest achievement was a result of me becoming accustomed to handling starch.”

At his lab featuring an electron microscope, a specialized camera, a strength analyzer and other instruments, Uyama showed how the whitish solid powder takes in so much fluid.

The mesh-like structure of the SAP quickly soaked up a drop of water.

“I have succeeded in creating better interstices,” Uyama said about the SAP’s porous design. “That was fortunate.”

The production method is kept secret, as Uyama is seeking a patent for the technology.

But the relatively easy technique could lead to the efficient mass production of the new SAP variant, he said.

SAP, an essential absorbent for paper diapers, is often fashioned from polyacrylic acid, a non-biodegradable chemical.

According to the Environment Ministry, disposable diapers accounted for 5.2 percent to 5.4 percent of general waste in fiscal 2020. The ratio is expected to reach 6.6 percent to 7.1 percent by fiscal 2030, given the graying of society.

Uyama’s lab, which has been cooperating with private businesses and other entities to produce biodegradable plastics and films from starch, is using its expertise to tackle the diaper problem.

Researchers from around the world are developing new bioplastics and other articles at the laboratory.

The lab’s objective is to make disposable diapers exclusively from biodegradable ingredients. These diapers could be fully composted instead of being incinerated alongside ordinary trash.

“The problem of waste from paper diapers has emerged as a serious concern in society,” Uyama said. “I hold out hope we can help reduce the volume.”


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Starch Breakthrough: Discovery Could Revolutionize Human Health and Industry

November 01st 2023

Starch breakthrough: discovery could revolutionize human health and industry.

Recent research has illuminated the longstanding question of how starch granules develop in the seeds of Triticeae crops – including wheat, barley, and rye. This discovery holds the potential to benefit numerous industries and human health significantly.

Starch in wheat, maize, rice, and potatoes is a vital energy-giving part of our diet and a key ingredient in many industrial applications from brewing and baking to the production of paper, glue, textiles, and construction materials.

Starch granules of different crops vary greatly in size and shape. Wheat starch (and those of other Triticeae) uniquely has two distinct types of granules: large A-type granules and smaller B-type granules.

Wheat starch granules observed under the Scanning Electron Microscope. Large A-type and small B-type granules are visible. Credit: Brendan Fahy/Nitin Uttam Kamble

The ratio of A- and B-type granules can affect the quality of wheat-based foods, such as bread and pasta. The two types of granules also present a problem for the starch manufacturing industry because many of the smaller B-type granules are lost and therefore wasted during the milling process. Further, too many B-type starch granules in barley can cause a hazy or cloudy appearance in beer because they do not get digested and filtered out during the brewing process.

Breakthrough in Starch Granule Research
New research published in the journal The Plant Cell by the group of Dr. David Seung at the John Innes Centre has made a breakthrough in solving this problem.

The team used genomic and experimental techniques to show that A- and B-type granules are formed by two distinct mechanisms.

By identifying an enzyme involved in B-type granule initiation and by then using conventional plant breeding techniques to remove this protein, they were able to produce wheat with low or no B-granules – with no penalties on plant development and without reducing the overall starch content.

Implications and Industry Perspectives
Added to previous studies by this group which have shed light on the shape and formation of A-type granules, the discovery has major implications says the first author of the study Dr. Nitin Uttam Kamble: “We discovered that the ubiquitous enzyme, (PHS1) is crucial for the formation of B-type granules in wheat. This is a scientific breakthrough because decades of research on this enzyme have failed to find a clear role for PHS1 in plants, and it shows that the A- and B-type granules of wheat form via different biochemical mechanisms. We can now use this knowledge to create variations in starch for different food and industrial applications.”

Dr. David Seung, a group leader at the John Innes Centre added: “Industry does not generally like heterogeneity; it wants something nice and even to process smoothly, and having these different types of starch granules in wheat has always represented a challenge.

“So, for us to discover the enzyme responsible for making the smaller granule population and to be able to use our breeding platform to reduce the number of B-type granules will hopefully be of great interest to many industry users.

“Combined together with our previous work, we now have a panel of diverse, novel wheat starches that vary in granule morphology, and these have diverse physical and chemical properties. We now invite businesses to work with us to investigate the potential benefits of these starches, such as in milling, pasta- and breadmaking.”

The Role of Starch in Diet and Industry
Starch is the main dietary carbohydrate in food eaten across the globe and consists of tiny semi-crystalline granules formed of simple sugar chains. In cereals starch granules form in the endosperm part of the seed.

As a raw material, starch is used in wallpaper, textiles, building materials, pharmaceuticals, glues, and thickeners.

Wheat and its relatives contribute more than one-third of starch used for European industry purposes. Potato and maize starch have different compositions and granule morphology to those in the Triticeae.

Over the years industry has gone to the expense of salvaging methods to solve the problem of mixtures of large A-type and small B-type granules including using multiple filtrations to catch granules lost during processing. Removing the requirement for these processing steps will reduce costs and improve product performance.

Future lines of inquiry will be how the size of granules affects starch digestibility, cooking quality, nutritional value, and the impact of dietary starches on human health.

Starch used in industry is often modified using physical and chemical methods to achieve the specific properties required for each end-use. Having ways to modify starch in plants may avoid these costly and often environmentally unfriendly modification processes.

In addition to industrial benefits, the clarity about how starch granules are differentially initiated opens doors to a greater understanding of the role that starch has in human diet and health.

Reference: “Initiation of B-type starch granules in wheat endosperm requires the plastidial α-glucan phosphorylase PHS1” by Nitin Uttam Kamble, Farrukh Makhamadjonov, Brendan Fahy, Carlo Martins, Gerhard Saalbach and David Seung, 18 August 2023, The Plant Cell.
DOI: 10.1093/plcell/koad217


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Starch And Gelatin Based Synthetic Sponges That Soak Up Microplastics

October 05th 2023

Scientists have created synthetic sponges that soak up microplastics.

Made from starch and gelatin, the biodegradable sponges remove as much as 90 percent of microplastics in tap water and seawater.

Sponges. Is there anything they can’t do? For millennia, humans have used dried natural sponges to clean up, to paint and as vessels to consume fluids like water or honey; we’ve even used them as contraceptive devices. Whether synthetic or natural, sponges are great at ensnaring tiny particles in their many pores. And, as scientists around the world are beginning to show, sponges’ cavity-filled forms mean they could provide a solution to one of our era’s biggest scourges: microplastic pollution.

In August, researchers in China published a study describing their development of a synthetic sponge that makes short work of microscopic plastic debris. In tests, the researchers show that when a specially prepared plastic-filled solution is pushed through one of their sponges, the sponge can remove both microplastics and even smaller nanoplastics from the liquid. These particles typically become trapped in the sponge’s many pores. Though the sponges’ effectiveness varied in experiments, in part depending on the concentration of plastic and the acidity and saltiness of the liquid, optimal conditions allowed the researchers to remove as much as 90 percent of the microplastics. They tried it in everything from tap water and seawater to—why not—soup from a local takeout spot.

The plastic-gobbling sponges are made mostly from starch and gelatin. Looking a bit like large white marshmallows, the biodegradable sponges are so light that balancing one atop a flower leaves the plant’s petals upright and unyielding, which the researchers suggest ought to make them cheap and easy to transport. Inside, the sponges’ structure appears less like lots of tiny bubble-like cavities and more like a jagged surface.

According to Guoqing Wang, a materials chemist at Ocean University of China and co-author on the paper, the sponge formula is adjustable. By tweaking the temperature when the two compounds are mixed, he says, the sponges can be made more or less porous. This affects the size of particles collected—highly porous sponges have lots of very small pores, which is good for catching very tiny particles.

The sponges, if ever produced at an industrial scale, Wang says, could be used in wastewater treatment plants to filter microplastics out of the water or in food production facilities to decontaminate water.

It would also be possible to use microplastic-trapping sponges like this in washing machines, suggests Christian Adlhart, a chemist at Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland who has also experimented with creating sponge filters for collecting microplastics. Some microplastics enter waterways after being shed by synthetic fabrics when they are swirled around in the wash. “You could place such a sponge inside the drum,” says Adlhart. “I think it would absorb a large fraction of the fibers.”

Sponges like this work thanks to a duo of mechanisms, he adds. If water is actively driven through one, for example as it is squeezed and released, microplastic particles get trapped inside the sponge’s pores like collecting marbles in buckets. But even when the sponge is simply floating in still water, electrostatic interactions mean that some plastic particles will cling to it.

There are hiccups to the sponge’s potential adoption, though. One, says Adlhart, is that starch and gelatin are important to the food industry, meaning that there could be competition for the key ingredients in the future. However, similar sponges can be made with different materials. The version that Adlhart and his colleagues developed, for instance, uses chitosan—a sugar derived from the shells of crustaceans—to provide the sponge’s structure. Chitosan isn’t widely used commercially, says Adlhart, so it wouldn’t face the same competition.

Adlhart says his sponge design, which involves spinning together a matrix of chitosan nanofibers, was inspired by the filter-feeding activity of oysters, which trap particles in their gills as they pump seawater through them.

Chitosan, starch and gelatin are all biodegradable. However, the process developed by Wang and his colleagues to make their sponge uses formaldehyde, a highly toxic compound, and there were traces of this in the sponges themselves. Wang says they’re working to come up with an alternative so that they can make a completely environmentally friendly sponge.

Anett Georgi, a chemist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany who wasn’t involved in the research, says that when it comes to cleaning up microplastic pollution in the ocean, the key is to stem the flow. We should start, she says, by targeting wastewater treatment plants that don’t yet employ technologies that already exist—such as filters made with sand or activated carbon—to remove plastic.

That’s something that could be realized quickly, says Georgi: “We don’t have to wait for crazy material.” But for smaller-scale applications, such as removing microplastics from household water supplies, the new sponge filters could be useful, Georgi suggests.

What’s still lacking, says Alice Horton at the United Kingdom’s National Oceanography Center, is proof that any of these newer sponge-based technologies can be cost effective and successful in removing microplastics from water at a large scale. But one thing she is confident about is that efforts to remove microplastics after they have already reached the ocean are probably doomed to fail.

“I don’t think there is anything we can do on a large enough scale that will have any impact,” she says of that. “We have to stop it getting there in the first place.”

Source: and

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A Thermal Processable, Self-Healing, and Fully Bio-Based Starch Plastic

September 18th 2023

A thermal processable, self-healing, and fully bio-based starch plastic.

The self-healing efficiency reached more than 88 percent in terms of mechanical properties.

The transfer of plastic waste from land to oceans and its subsequent accumulation within the food chain poses a major threat to both the environment and human health. Consequently, the development of renewable, low-cost and eco-friendly alternative materials has garnered tremendous attention and interest.

Starch is a highly desirable material for the production of bioplastics due to its abundance and renewable nature. However, limitations such as brittleness, hydrophilicity and thermal properties restrict its widespread application.

Structural design strategy of the fully bio-based starch plastic.

Addressing these concerns, a group of researchers from State Key Laboratory of Pulp and Paper Engineering at South China University of Technology presents a novel strategy for fabricating a fully bio-based starch plastic that exhibits numerous advantages, including superior flexibility, waterproof capability, excellent thermal processability and self-adaptability.

“Native starch exhibits great stiffness due to the strong hydrogen bonding between its molecular chains, resulting in challenges during thermal processing,” explains Xiaoqian Zhang, the first author of the study published in Green Energy & Environment. “A covalent adaptable network was constructed to effectively weaken the hydrogen bonding and improve the stress relaxation of starch chains.”

“In the production of the fully bio-based starch plastic, dialdehyde starch was subjected to a mild Schiff base reaction with a plant oil-based diamine. This reaction resulted in the formation of dynamic imine bonds, which exhibited the ability to be cleaved and reformed reversibly under heat stimulation. Consequently, the starch plastic demonstrated remarkable thermal processability,” Zhang said.

“Additionally, the presence of long aliphatic chains in the diamine enhanced the steric hinderance of the starch molecule chains, leading to improved flexibility and hydrophobicity of the starch plastic.”

Xiaohui Wang, corresponding author of the study, added, “Our transparent starch plastic, which contains imine bonds, also demonstrates self-healing capability. It can repair not only scratches but also large-area damage with a simple heat-pressing treatment.”

Notably, the self-healing efficiency reached more than 88% in terms of mechanical properties. Such desirable properties render the starch plastic highly appealing for various practical applications. “Through this study, we have successfully introduced a novel design strategy for developing sustainable, thermal processable, and degradable bioplastics using fully bio-based materials,” concluded Wang.


DOI: 10.1016/j.gee.2023.08.002

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Resistant Starch Reduces Liver Triglycerides in People With Fatty Liver Disease

September 09th 2023

Study reveals how resistant starch intake lowers liver triglycerides in people with fatty liver disease.

For four months, participants in a clinical trial consumed resistant starch – known to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria – which reduced intrahepatic triglyceride content (IHTC) by 5.89% after adjusting for weight loss. IHTC accumulation can potentially lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Moreover, supplementation decreased serum branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and gut microbial species, particularly Bacteroides stercoris, strongly linked to IHTC and liver enzymes.

“We identified a new dietary intervention for NAFLD, and the approach is effective, affordable and sustainable,” co-author professor Huating Li, from the Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital, tells Nutrition Insight.

“Compared with strenuous exercise or weight loss treatment, increasing resistant starch intake upon a normal and balanced diet is much easier for people to follow. We hope people can release the importance and effectiveness of lifestyle changes for disease management and put it into practice.”

A fat buildup in the liver causes NAFLD and can lead to severe liver diseases. It affects about 30% of the global population and can contribute to other conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.

The consumption of resistant starch led to both weight loss (5.78%) and the reduction of liver triglycerides. There is no approved medicine to treat the disease. Doctors usually recommend dietary changes and exercise to alleviate the conditions.

Professor Weiping Jia, co-author of the study, tells us that weight loss and resistant starch intake are effective dietary approaches to alleviating NAFLD.

“Previous work has shown that weight loss is safe and dose-dependently improves histological disease activity in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (the most severe form of NAFLD), with weight loss of 5% or more associated with NAFLD improvement and a weight loss equal to or less than 7% associated with histological improvement.”

“In our study, it is worth noting that the consumption of resistant starch led to both weight loss (5.78%) and the reduction of liver triglycerides.”

“More importantly, the effect of resistant starch in reducing liver triglycerides is independent of weight loss, with only 23% of liver fat reduction contributed by weight loss.”

The researchers note that evidence suggests that NAFLD is closely related to gut microbiota through the gut-liver axis. For example, patients in the early stages of the disease have an altered gut bacteria profile. Although microbiota-directed foods have shown promise in NAFLD patients, studies are in an early stage.

In the current study, published in Cell Metabolism, 196 NAFLD patients followed a balanced dietary plan designed by a nutritionist. Over half of the participants (99) received a resistant starch powder derived from maize, while the control group consumed calorie-matched, non-resistant corn starch.

Trial participants drank 20 g of the starch mixed with 300 mL water before meals twice daily over four months.

“After the four-month resistant starch intake, the relative reduction of the liver fat fraction was 39.4% compared to the control,” highlights Li. “In prior research, an equal to or less than 30% reduction has been associated with an improvement in histological steatohepatitis, a more severe disease stage and is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.”

In addition, liver enzymes and inflammatory factors were reduced for participants consuming resistant starch.

A biomarker for NAFLD was significantly reduced after the consumption of resistant starch.

“Our study not only demonstrates the clinical benefits of using resistant starch in NAFLD via a randomized controlled clinical trial but also reveals the underlying mechanism,” says Jia.

“From a double-blinded clinical trial to the identification of key microbial species, and further to the causal relationship between microbiome (and its metabolites) and host phenotype, our study is comprehensive and provides a complete chain of evidence for research into microbiome-linked diseases.”

Currently, there is no approved medicine to treat NAFLD, doctors advise dietary changes and exercise.

The resistant starch group had a different microbiota composition and functionality than the control group. For example, resistant starch reduced the abundance in the gut of B. stercoris, a species highly correlated with IHTC.

The researchers note that these correlations remained significant even after controlling for obesity-related parameters, suggesting that resistant starch’s effect is independent of body weight.

After transplanting fecal microbiota from resistant starch-treatment patients to mice eating a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, liver weight and triglyceride levels were significantly reduced. In contrast, liver tissue grading improved compared to mice receiving microbiota from the control group.

The researchers suggest that further research may reveal other possible molecular mechanisms by which the resistant starch-altered metabolites or gut microbes lead to the accumulation or reduction of liver fat, inflammation and fibrosis in the liver.

“Confirming histological responses would need liver biopsy in further studies,” notes Li.

Jia adds that liver biopsy is invasive but is the gold standard for disease diagnosis. “In addition, a standardized diet can be used to directly control for the effect of diet as a potential confounding factor.”


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Breeding Wheat Plants With Better Starch

August 28th 2023

Starch science: researchers discover crucial enzyme for better baking, brewing and milling.

A team of UK researchers has figured out how low-quality starch grows in wheat.

The discovery, published in The Plant Cell, could help to breed plants with more control over their starch.

As well as being an important nutritional source of carbohydrates, starch is a valuable ingredient in brewing, glue, paper, textiles, and construction materials.

In the plant tribe Triticeae, which includes wheat, barley, and rye, starch grows in two distinct granules: large “A-type” granules, and small, more problematic, “B-type” granules.

Wheat starch granules – large A-type and small B-type – under a scanning electron microscope. Credit: Brendan Fahy/Nitin Uttam Kamble

A-type granules are often better for making starchy things. B-type granules can get lost during flour milling because of their size, leading to waste. They also present problems when using starch for other things: too many B-type granules in beer, for instance, makes it cloudy.

These researchers have found the culprit that makes the B-type granules: an enzyme, or type of protein, called PHS1.

“We discovered that the ubiquitous enzyme, (PHS1) is crucial for the formation of B-type granules in wheat,” says lead author Dr Nitin Uttam Kamble, a postdoctoral scientist at the John Innes Centre, UK.

“This is a scientific breakthrough because decades of research on this enzyme have failed to find a clear role for PHS1 in plants, and it shows that the A- and B-type granules of wheat form via different biochemical mechanisms.

“We can now use this knowledge to create variations in starch for different food and industrial applications.”

The researchers found that the enzyme interacts with other B-type granule proteins in lab-based experiments.

They then bred wheat plants with mutated genomes that didn’t include a gene for PHS1, finding they had fewer B-type granules than the wild-type plants.

“Industry does not generally like heterogeneity; it wants something nice and even to process smoothly and having these different types of starch granules in wheat has always represented a challenge,” says group leader Dr David Seung, also at John Innes.

“So, for us to discover the enzyme responsible for making the smaller granule population and to be able to use our breeding platform to reduce the number of B-type granules will hopefully be of great interest to many industry users.

“Combined together with our previous work, we now have a panel of diverse, novel wheat starches that vary in granule morphology, and these have diverse physical and chemical properties.”

The researchers are now interested in seeing how these granules interact with digestibility, human health and cooking quality.


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Combining Starch With PLA Improves Its Industrial Compostability

August 08th 2023

Combining starch with PLA improves its industrial compostability, researchers claim.

Published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and supported by the US Department of Agriculture and MSU AgBioResearch, the team’s research suggests that PLA can sit in industrial composting conditions for around 20 days before microbial decomposition begins. In response, thermoplastic starch derived from carbohydrates has been precisely implemented into PLA, which apparently provides a substance for the microbes to break down while the PLA degrades.

A collaboration between postdoctoral researcher Anibal Bher and doctoral students Pooja Mayekar and Wanwarang Limsukon combined their knowledge to draw upon Bher’s existing research into the strength, clarity, and other benefits of different PLA-thermoplastic starch blends, as well as observe the difference between breakdown processes under different conditions.
If managed correctly, PLA’s waste byproducts are water, carbon dioxide, and lactic acid – all natural substances that would not cause negative environmental impacts. In addition, PLA itself is already derived from plant sugars instead of petroleum; and, with less than 10% of plastic waste thought to be recycled in the US, composting them in industrial conditions would save both consumers and recyclers the time, water, and energy needed to clean plastic waste for recycling.

Inside this conditioned chamber in Rafael Auras’ lab at Michigan State University, researchers can regulate composting conditions, including temperature, humidity and airflow, while measuring the carbon dioxide produced by microbes as they digest materials in the bioreactors. Credit: Matt Davenport/MSU

Rafael Auras, MSU professor, the Amcor Endowed Chair in Packaging Sustainability, and leader of the project, explained: “In the U.S. and globally, there is a large issue with waste and
especially plastic waste.

“By developing biodegradable and compostable products, we can divert some of that waste. We can reduce the amount that goes into a landfill.”

However, the researchers highlight that social and behavioural factors will need to change to implement their solution at a larger scale. This apparently includes the scepticism of industrial composters surrounding bioplastics and consumers’ misguided belief that biodegradable and compostable materials will break down effectively in every environment, with the latter
contributing towards litter.

Therefore, the team now seeks to raise awareness around the necessary changes in behaviour to further the pursuit of circularity for plastic materials like PLA. “There’s not going to be one solution to the entire problem of plastic waste management,” said Mayekar. “What we’ve developed is one approach from the packaging side.

“It’s really easy to just blame plastic for its problems, but I think we need to change the conversation about how we manage it.” Auras continued: “If people think we develop something biodegradable so it can be littered, that will make the problem worse. The technology we develop is meant to be introduced into active waste-management scenarios.”

“We need to be conscious of how we manage waste, especially plastics,” added Bher. “Even at home, you’ll need to think about how you’re managing that small composting process.”
Another recent breakthrough saw researchers at the University of Washington claim to develop new bioplastics that apparently break down at the same rate as a banana peel in a home compost bin. This is hoped to prevent plastics from creating microplastic pollution if they escape recycling streams.

Meanwhile, European Bioplastics has predicted that the global capacity of bioplastic production will increase by 4.7 million tonnes between the end of 2022 and 2027.


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