New upcycling technologies reclaim lost nutrition

At a time when the numbers show the world is wasting more food than ever, upcycling processes can close the food usage loop and make use of what would have been wasted.

July 28, 2020

4 Min Read
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Forty percent of the food produced around the globe currently goes to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. At the same time, nutrition gaps and food insecurity continue to persist, even in the United States, where obesity is at an epidemic rate. (Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2011 Dec;34(4):717-32.)

This paradox of our food system producing more waste than ever, yet still not providing adequate nutrition, demonstrates the need for innovation. At Comet Bio, we are working to address both challenges by extracting nutrition from food system waste. Our proprietary upcycling technology produces ingredients with enormous nutritious potential while simultaneously addressing critical environmental challenges.

Wasted food, wasted nutrition

Never has our population been so overfed, yet undernourished. Data from the USDA’s 2012 Loss-Adjusted Food Availability report showed that the food wasted per person per day contained more than 1,200 calories, 33 grams of protein, 5.9 grams of dietary fiber and significant amounts of other under-consumed nutrients including calcium and potassium. These nutrients could go far in helping fill the nutrition gaps for many Americans. For example, USDA data shows that U.S. women fell short of meeting the recommended daily levels of dietary fiber by an average of 8.9 grams per day in 2012. The lost 5.9 grams of dietary fiber represents two-thirds of this gap.

Wasted food begins where our food supply chain begins—farming and harvesting. Comet Bio founder Andrew Richard has a long history of working with crop leftovers and wood waste. Early on, he recognized the opportunity in upcycling these resources.

Unlike some manufacturing systems that use a “take, make, waste” model, upcycling solidifies a circular economy using a “take, make, re-make and restore” model. Upcycling takes materials that would otherwise go to waste and harvests them to develop an entirely new product, closing the loop on the food system.

Ingredients made better

Comet Bio’s proprietary production process upcycles crops leftovers—such as straw, leaves and shells—into high-quality ingredients. We ensure our products are of high quality by first partnering with farmers to understand where our crop leftovers are coming from and how they are being grown and collected. Not only does this help ensure we are sourcing upcycled materials from organic and non-GMO crops, but it enables us to mitigate any missteps that could occur when purchasing farm leftovers. This partnership benefits farmers by allowing them to profit from their whole harvest. It also ensures that the highest quality crops are used to develop novel ingredients for dietary supplements and the food, confectionary and beverage marketplaces.

With this approach, we not only close the loop on the food system but also reduce its carbon footprint.  According to an independent well-to-wheel analysis, Comet Bio’s dextrose production process emits more than 60% fewer greenhouse gases than traditional manufacturing.

Extracting better nutrition

We are always looking for ways to use our technology to supply consumers with sustainable, healthier ingredients. For example, despite its exceptional prebiotic benefits, the plant fiber extract arabinoxylan has not been widely available for use due to inefficient extraction. Clinical research shows that consuming as little as 2.2 g/d of arabinoxylan promotes the growth of Bifidobacteria in the gut, which is less than half the level of other prebiotic ingredients, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics. We saw this market opportunity and utilized our proprietary extraction technology to make it available in an isolated, purified, and fully soluble form. The proprietary water extraction technology makes it possible to extract arabinoxylan from many crop leftovers. The process uses water and pressure to extract the arabinoxylan and purify it. Through this approach, Comet Bio can produce ingredients of the highest quality possible, such as its arabinoxylan product, Arrabina.

What's next?

Comet Bio is reclaiming lost nutrition from food system waste, and we’re not alone. Our current customers are predominantly supplement manufacturers and protein powder companies looking to bolster their health and sustainability claims by adding our ingredients to their products. We also were recently selected by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to join its 100+ Accelerator program to pilot their saved grains in our upcycling process. The Upcycled Food Association (UFA), of which we’re members, has more than 50 mission-driven companies, each tackling the problem in slightly different ways. Consumers recognize the opportunity, too; according to the UFA, 95% of consumers want to reduce food waste. Future Market Insights estimates that upcycled food could be worth $46 billion and experience a 5% annual growth over the next decade.

These collective efforts, including innovative approaches and industry partnerships, can give rise to a future with less waste and more nutrition in our food system.

Rich Troyer, CEO of Comet Bio, brings a unique combination of corporate development, operations and finance expertise in industrial biotechnology. Troyer was previously the chief business officer at Coskata, where he oversaw business development, strategic planning, project development and external relations. Before joining Coskata, he was a managing director at The Blackstone Group, where he was responsible for investments in biofuels and bio-chemicals companies.

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