The company’s portfolio includes food and feed ingredients that provide a fiber solution with nutritive properties while helping manufacturers reduce their environmental impact, said Kathrin Schilling, co-founder and managing director of BioPowder.
With a background in biofuel trading, she launched the company together with Francisco Arjona back in 2017.
The startup’s products are derived from food processing side streams, and, as such, are supporting the circular economy, explained Schilling.
BioPowder’s production facility is in Córdoba, a city in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, in the heart of the olive and fruit cultivation region. The company leverages long-standing relationships and contracts with farmers and agricultural cooperatives.
The team – 26 employees based in Spain, France, Germany, and Malta – is strong in sales and logistics organization. It is made up of specialists with decades of experience in the biomass-processing industry, in both the production and sourcing of raw materials; it also has a well-rounded knowledge of different markets and their requirements, said the MD.
The company, continued Schilling, specializes in the granulation and micronization of renewable raw materials such as olive pits or stones. “We take a biomass like olive stones or olive peel. We dry, sieve and fraction them into a wide range of particle sizes, which allows us to market them for a wide range of different applications. Depending on how they are customized, they can provide a wide range of texture effects, and different properties for new materials, either mechanical, physical, or chemical properties.”
When it comes to food and feed, BioPowder has been looking to address key trends in the markets, particularly the strong demand for plant-based ingredients. “We have seen that the feed market is responding, and we now want to make our product applications known to a wider audience [within that industry and the pet food sector as well].”
The company’s olive stone derived flour and its olive peel, seed and leaf powder can be used in feed and pet applications; they have distinct properties.
Cellulose, lignin, and fibers
The olive stone flour is made up of sugars – carbohydrates – along with cellulose, lignin, and fibers.
“Olive stone flour is a lignocellulosic material and when it is micronized to a fine size it is a fluid powder. It looks and feels a bit like a wheat flour, but it is a grain-free alternative to conventional flours, which are added as binders, texturizers or also as a source of carbohydrates, acting as dietary fibers and energy components in feeds.”
Fruit stone powders, including olive stone powder, are free of wheat protein, making them suitable as anti-allergic food and feed ingredients, a parameter that is becoming increasingly important in the pet food arena, she said.
“When fruit stone powders are added to a product, they can also replace industrially manufactured cellulose, which has typically been added as a fiber component, especially in replacement of fats and sugars to make the formulation more digestible.
“Coming to the softer by-products of the olive - the peel, the seed, and the powder of the olive leaves, these are also sources of fibers, but, more importantly, they are rich in bioactive compounds, especially polyphenolic compounds, which are sources of antioxidants.
“And, apart from the polyphenolics, these powders are also sources of plant-based proteins, which can be particularly interesting in applications where the manufacturer seeks to replace an animal protein – fishmeal, for example,” said Schilling.
The company is tending to focus on olive by-products as a principal raw material, not just for their nutritional profile but also for reasons of mechanical treatment and processing.
“Olive stones behave in a very favorable way when they are ground and sieved. They produce smooth, stable particles and they have reduced oil content, thus ensuring longer shelf-life. They are a really versatile option, particularly when it comes to feed applications.”
As olive stone powder is derived exclusively from the edible olive – a recognized staple food - and is registered and approved according to GMP+ there are no regulatory hurdles in terms of its use in European markets; its application in feed is also exempt from any requirements under the REACH legislation [Annex 5 point 2].
The quality of the input raw material used is key to ensuring risk-free production, said the MD. “We make sure that we do not process just any biomass, just any by-product, that we only use one particular grade of olive stones.”
The AA grade olive stone the company exploits is obtained through its separation from the pressing cake while the latter is still fresh and wet. Therefore, any remaining pulp and shell is easily removed; the absence of dust or any perishable pulp or shell residues ensures the olive stone powders are odorless, neutral in taste and free of contaminants, she said.
“In terms of processing, we only use mechanical means - centrifugation techniques - to separate the different components by weight and by shape. The bottom line is that we do not use any chemicals for that. We fraction the different by-products; there is no chemical processing involved. So, at the end of the process, we can still say that the stone, the seed, and the olive peel are essentially what used to be in the edible olive.”
Two and half years ago, the company conducted an extensive study in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology in Germany. The team there characterized the olive stone flour, producing a detailed food and feed profile for it. “With that know-how and data, we approached a few leading feed manufacturers and encouraged them to evaluate our product.”
A Spanish lab specialized in olive oil by-products has also provided the company with input and guidance on feed applications.
BioPowder has already gained traction with feed producers in Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Egypt. There is also growing interest in such plant-based alternatives to fishmeal in salmon producing markets, she added.
“We have learnt a lot from the feedback we have received from the industry as well.”
Texture and mouth feel was an issue during the initial phase of supplying feed producers. One key learning in relation to that was particle size, explained Schilling. “We had not anticipated that particle size would be such a decisive factor when it came to feed applications. But the insights generated showed that the powder needs to be under 50 microns to create a pleasant, creamy texture.”
Local and sustainable production is a key draw for end users, an approach that BioPowder champions.
“We are currently looking for an organization to quantify our carbon footprint from sourcing to production to shipping logistics.
“However, it should be a very straightforward exercise, as resource intensive production steps are simply not a feature of our process. The main element that creates CO2 is the electricity that we use, but we do so in an indirect way. We continue to look at how we can make our processes even more resource saving and efficient.”
Spain has been severely affected by drought this year, with reduced olive production as a result, reported Schilling. “That factor has had an impact on the price and quality of olives, a development that can also encourage greater use of agro-chemicals, evidently within the range of the applicable limits.”
Labs in the south of Spain, which are ingrained in the olive oil ecosystem, check for residue levels, said Schilling.
BioPowder, she added, always strives to keep track of the olive oil mills from which it sources it raw material batches. “We try to be as involved as possible in the different side-stream sourcing processes. We analyze the byproducts that we receive before we process them and then again at the post-production stage, when the powders have been manufactured. We conduct extensive sampling, and subsequently provide certificates.”