Making full use of plant resources
Ivy, which grows abundantly in Wales, is just one of a range of plants being investigated for the fine chemicals and other valuable extracts and fibres that they contain. These materials are being explored in a biorefinery on Anglesey which could provide a model for future rural employment. The research is looking for viable replacements for current products and ingredients currently derived from crude oil, which are used across the manufacturing and construction industry.
The research and development work to provide new sources of fine chemicals and other materials is being done by a leading Centre at Bangor University. The focus of the BioComposites Centre’s work is on finding new uses for valuable natural resources, which we’re currently either ignoring completely, throwing away.
The Centre provides the basic investigation into the compounds found in different plants and how they can be used, and also conducts specific contracted work for individual companies.
The new source of materials could provide vital rural employment opportunities through local processing facilities known as biorefineries.
Ivy is just one of the plants that have been thoroughly investigated in recent years. It seems that ivy could provide a number of extracts that could be used in applications ranging from personal products such as shampoo, to horticultural uses or even in the food industry.
Dr Dave Preskett, a development chemist, has spent the last 10 years looking at every component which makes up ivy and what he’s found is fascinating:
“We’re not making the most of ivy; the plant has great potential,” he says. “We’ve used ivy extract as a slug killer in place of slug pellets and trials using it as a fungicide to treat potato blight, in place of oil derived chemical sprays, proved very effective in protecting crops. The same extract also has great potential to be developed in products for treating dandruff and athlete’s foot. An oil produced from the berries is edible, as ivy is not poisonous, contrary to popular belief, and has all the health giving properties of olive oil but has the more solid consistency of butter or lard.”
Dr Adam Charlton, manager of the BioComposites Centre’s biorefinery at Mona, Anglesey explains: “Our role is to provide the basic groundwork for new products that other businesses can then develop and take to market. We focus on finding new valuable uses for naturally derived materials, from pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals to materials for roofing tiles and insulation for the construction industry.”
Dr Charlton adds: “The crops under the spotlight would not compete for land used for essential food crops as they tend to be crops that can be harvested from poorer marginal lands. Some are already being grown and harvested for other purposes, but not being fully utilised. We’re looking at making use of parts of plants that are currently discarded after harvesting the primary crop.”
The BioComposites Centre also uses greener extraction methods in their biorefinery than are used in traditional industry, andare unique in calculating the ‘whole cost’ of processing, including energy usage in extracting the plant compounds and materials.
Leading the field in Wales, the Centre is working on a number of European research projects and their work supports Welsh, UK and European policies regarding sustainability.
Images show Dr Dave Preskett, a development chemist at Bangor University with ivy prior to extraction and with a small phial of a pure chemical extracted from the ivy.
Publication date: 12 November 2013