Whey is a by-product of the manufacture of cheese or casein and is considered a
promising raw material for various commercial applications due to its high-value
components (e.g. proteins) and its large availability. Around 81 million tons of
liquid whey was produced by the approximately 150,000 European cheese makers in
EU-27 in 2011. However, according to the European Whey Products Association
(EWPA), only 40% of the liquid whey in Europe is being processed for its
utilization in food and human nutrition or in feed applications, while the rest
is still being dumped into municipal sewages, mainly by SME dairies. As a liquid
waste, whey treatment generates unavoidable costs of around €0.04 per liter.
Hence, there is an urgent need to tackle this environmental problem and valorise
whey by proposing innovative, energy efficient technologies, with low
operational costs and high industrial yields that are able to ensure the
economic viability of whey processing for European dairy SMEs.
In this context, our pan-European partnership of SMEs and RTDs from 7 Member States has identified the potential of a highly efficient, selective, gentle and economically attractive electro-membrane filtration (EMF) technology to enhance separation and concentration of proteins and protein peptides from whey. The efficient recovery of functional protein fractions through EMF technology will provide an important source of high-value natural food emulsifiers and protein supplements for various food formulations and nutritional applications, while providing an economic alternative to whey disposal and reducing the environmental impact of European SME dairies. The EMF technology enhances the separation of molecules with similar weight but different charge and - compared to ultrafiltration - significantly increases filtration yields and reduces cleaning efforts, waste water and membrane replacement costs.
Impact: the proposed technology will provide a cost-effective method to separate protein fractions from whey, which will in the end increase the competitiveness of European SME cheese makers. We estimate that whey sales of €20.98 million can be achieved within 6.5 years of project completion. By using Whey2Food technology, SME cheese makers will significantly increase their income and positively contribute to reduce environmental impact.