Wednesday, December 18, 2019

20 Years Food & Environmental Science & Technology: What's up Next

Back to 1998 is when I first started my adventure in Chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Patras. Simultaneously, I started practicing oenology part-time in our family chemical laboratory in Chania, analyzing samples of musts from homemade winemaking. My work experience in fermentation processes was the spark inspiring me to conduct my MSc studies in food biotechnology.
However, I continued working with the chemical analysis of other foodstuffs such as olive oil to determine it's quality or olive kernel/paste/mill wastewater samples to optimize the quantitative and qualitative performance of the olive oil production units.

When I came back to my hometown in 2004, I was seeking new challenges beyond food analysis and I found them at the Technical University of Crete. During this period, most researchers of the School of Environmental Engineering were dealing with the treatment of olive mill wastewater (OMW) targeting the diminution of its organic load.

Having daily contact with olive oil producers in our family lab, I quickly realized that the proposed solutions for the treatment of OMW were not sustainable. Olive oil is a sector challenged in many directions. Consumers demand extra virgin olive oils of ultra high quality, the product's final price varies a lot from time to time and local authorities demand from production units to reduce their environmental impact. Under these conditions, even cheap solutions that promise the total treatment of OMW may collapse financially in olive oil industries. On the other hand, the recovery of polyphenols from olive processing by-products was a hype research objective in the middle of 00s: some interesting articles were published and a couple of early efforts were under commercialization.  These facts inspired me to conduct my Ph.D. for the recovery and the clarification of organic constituents from OMW using physicochemical processes.

In particular, I started working with the adsorption of olive polyphenols on Greek lignites as a part of a funded research project on these materials. In 2006, I presented my first experimental results in an international conference [Galanakis, C.M., Dimou, D., Pasadakis, N., Papanicolaou, K., & Gekas, V. (2006). Adsorption of olive mill wastewater on raw and activated Greek Lignites. Protection and Restoration of the Environment VIII. 3-7 July, Chania, Greece].

My presentation did not have many fans in a strictly environmental engineering audience. My early efforts were too empirical and were lacking in the theoretical background. I stepped on the podium and professors in the audience were laughing with my approach. I was so disappointed feeling uselessness for my efforts. Almost two years already as a Ph.D. student, and no real outcomes.
A few months later I visited Lund University in Sweden as an Erasmus student, supervised by my mentor Eva Tornberg. The purpose of my visit was to conduct experiments for the pre-treatment of OMW to remove solids and macromolecules like proteins. We developed a simple methodology for the simultaneous recovery of dietary fiber and polyphenols from OMW, in two separated streams, namely an alcohol insoluble residue and an ethanolic extract.

The proposed method attracted the interest of Forskarpatent I Syd AB (a Swedish spinout commercialization Company), which subsequently funded the edition, registration (28.02.2007) of the patent (WO/2008/082343). At this point, my investigation turned to a double goal: developing applications for both the dietary fiber and polyphenolic extracts. After obtaining the first laboratory results, I decided to edit my first research articles. It took me 3 years and multiple rejections in different scientific journals to publish my first ever paper.

Photo 1 shows my first attempt in making meatballs with dietary fiber recovered from olive mill wastewater. They were black and green, looking burned even prior to cooking. After cooking, they had a metallic taste due to the very high potassium content of the crude extract recovered from OMW. But, the fortification of meatballs with olive fiber was able to improve the cooking properties of the product by restricting the oil uptake and thereby giving rise to meatballs with sustained reduced fat content. This technological property in combination with the innovative application gave me my first publication of research article after 5 years of effort.

Later on, I clarified the fiber-rich extract from high potassium concentrations using a 25 kDa ultrafiltration membrane. The membrane was also able to partially remove the heavier fragments of hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives and flavonols from a phenol containing beverage that was simultaneously developed during my Ph.D. study. This application resulted in one of the most cited articles of Journal Food Engineering (within 2010-2015).

A couple of years later (in 2008), the potential applications of the patent recognized by Lund University Innovation systems AB that established a company (Phenoliv AB) in cooperation with the inventors (Tornberg, E. and Galanakis, C. M.), funded the obtainment of patent legal rights from Forskarpatent I Syd AB. This company tried to commercialize olive polyphenols for different applications in foodstuff and consumer products.

After finishing my Ph.D. in 2010, I focused on Phenoliv AB. The company operated for 8 years (up to 2016). During this period, we developed a pilot plant for the production of 40 Kg polyphenol-rich powder from 2 tn of OMW. This product was investigated by fortifying different products, e.g. chocolates, beverages, meat products, chips, vegetable oils, bakery products, and cosmetics. Phenoliv AB was a great “school” as it allowed me realizing that the distance between academia and real-world is long and that there are many steps to make innovation happen.

In the same period, I continued my research efforts aiming basically at processing bioresources, recovering different functional ingredients from all kinds of food processing by-products, separating functional compounds with membrane technology and finally fortifying foods and consumer products.

Concerning recovery procedures, the first step was to identify the conventional and emerging (basically non-thermal) technologies used for the separation of valuable compounds in foods prior to integrating them in a holistic methodology. The so-called "5-Stages Universal Recovery Process" was published in a review paper that became the most cited article published in Trends in Food Science Technology within the period 2012-2017.

This methodology was initially designed to ensure optimized management of the available technologies and recapture several kinds of valuable compounds from any waste source. Thereafter, it was further developed to a more general approach (the so-called "The Universal Recovery Strategy") that includes all the relevant information in each case (e.g. wastes distribution, availability and production data, microstructure, engineering aspects, safety and cost issues, scale-up and commercialization aspects etc) for the designing of a particular application. All this information was included in a relevant reference module and in my first edited book in 2015 entitled “Food Waste Recovery: Processing Technologies and Industrial Techniques”.

Back in 2013, I realized that my vision cannot be realized with spare actions and efforts, without bridging together all researchers and experts in the field, without bridging the gap between industry and academia, without transferring technical knowledge to stakeholders. This is when I founded the Food Waste Recovery Group with the support of the ISEKI-Food Association. The group acts at the technological part of bioeconomy, helping industries to estimate the potentiality of their food waste and convert them into food by-products of commercial importance.

Within the last 6 years, we have initiated numerous endeavors including the preparation of multiple scientific books, dealing with saving food actions, biobased industries and products, valorization of different food processing by-products (e.g. from olive, grape, fruits, cereals, coffee, meat, etc.), sustainable food systems, innovations strategies in the food and environmental science, innovation in traditional foods, nutraceuticals and non-thermal processing, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, shelf-life and food quality, and personalized nutrition. The group has also prepared books dealing with food components like polyphenols, proteins, carotenoids, glucosinolates, dietary fiber, lipids and edible oils, as well as alternative food products, non-alcoholic drinks and others.
The group has also developed courses, training workshops, joint research efforts, and expert database and several news channels (social media pages, videos and blogs) for them on time dissemination of knowledge. Our advisory department deals with (but not limited to) waste valorization, bio-based product development and compounds recovery.
At the end of the last year, I was included in 2019 Highly Cited Researchers list of Web of Science Group. Working part-time in research with negligible resources for more than a decade, being placed under 40 years old in the World’s top 0.1% of most influential scientists was beyond my dream expectations when I started my career.

What’s Up Next?
My vision is to contribute to #SAVEFOOD actions and build a more sustainable future: 
Food Waste Recovery. The continuous development of the Food Waste Recovery Group and its further establishment as the biggest open innovation network worldwide in the particular field is of the highest priority. The ultimate goal is to inspire related professionals to extract high added-value compounds from wasted by-products in all stages of food production (from agriculture to the consumer) and re-utilize them in the food chain. Through our management consultancy, we provide insights all around the world, from Europe to the US, Asia, Middle East and Oceania: wherever food waste is generated and whenever the food industry is seeking answers.
Contributing to Future European Bioeconomy.  The updated EU Bioeconomy Strategy adopted in October 2018 aims to develop a sustainable bioeconomy for Europe, strengthening the connection between economy, society, and the environment. It addresses global challenges such as meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations and the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. After many years of effort, the objectives of the Food Waste Recovery Group came at the forefront of the European Agenda. The EU Green Deal will change Europe to a biobased, climate-neutral and circular economy by 2050. We will stay dedicated to this vision aiming at contributing to future European bioeconomy.

Intensifying Research and Innovation Efforts. Building bridges between industry and academia, sustainability and innovation, theory and practice is and always will be of primary importance. Through the development of key collaborations such as this between Galanakis Laboratories (Greece) and King Saud University (Saudi Arabia), we aim at recovering valuable compounds from food processing by-products and other bioresources prior utilizing them for the fortification of bakery, meat, foodstuff, and other consumer products (e.g. cosmetics). Up to now, important natural sources have been under-investigated. We are intensifying our efforts to reveal opportunities for under estimated agricultural products and by-products.

Never Stopped Serving Local Producers and Enterprises. Serving the agri-food sector and the local community is always my commitment. The main objective of Galanakis Laboratories is the provision of services to third parties in the field of chemical, physicochemical and microbiological testing of wines, musts, beverages, olive oils, olive kernels, foods, honey, waters, waste, soils and others. Chemical and technical advice is also provided for these products, whereas we undertake the preparation of environmental, chemical, industrial and techno-economic studies.

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