Dunreidy in project to make safer food packaging

With people constantly on the go, products that make life easier are always welcome.

With people constantly on the go, products that make life easier are always welcome.

But keeping products safe is important, and this is especially true for the food industry. When fats, oils and other food components are oxidised, the food loses nutrients and colours. Steering clear of oxidation is crucial for food packaging.

Kilkenny-based Dunreidy Engineering is one of 14 partners from six countries that have developed a biomaterial from whey protein as well as a commercially viable method of producing multifunctional films on an industrial scale. This is steps ahead of the conventional films based on petrochemicals.

The results are an outcome of the Wheylayer project, which received more than €2.5 million under “Research for the Benefit of SMEs,” a programme within the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Commission.

The fruits of their labour are part of a strong European effort to develop a sustainable packing material, whose production is both cost-effective and good for the environment.

Industry will benefit immensely from this latest innovation, the company says, because it will help keep their food products safe from oxygen, moisture, and chemical and biological contamination.

The upshot of this development is that foods will remain fresh for as long as possible. And the good news for enterprises that would like to make the switch to whey proteins is that this will only require minor modifications to their plants.

Current methods focus on the use of expensive, petrochemical-based polymers such as ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) copolymers as barrier materials. For the Wheylayer project, the natural ingredients in the whey extend the shelf life of food products and, an added bonus is that the whey protein layer is biodegradable.

The Wheylayer project is in the process of being developed to pre-competitive stage, led by four members of the consortium. It is expected that within a year the first Wheylayer-based product will already be on the market.

During the project, Dunreidy Engineering provided engineering advice to the companies carrying out the pilot and commercial plant work. The company carried out research work in Ireland and the UK on whey usage and applications and also assisted the project leaders on mainland Europe on whey availability and locations.

Dunreidy’s vast experience in the Irish dairy industry for over 30 years was invaluable as whey protein is the key raw material in this innovative product.

“We have also contributed actively to the setting up of a patent for Wheylayer in collaboration with other members of the consortium and we are part of the project exploitation group working with companies who are developing Wheylayer in the commercial phase,” said Dunreidy Engineering joint managing director Donal Dunne. “We expect to benefit from taking part in the engineering process business and successful exploitation of the ongoing business which will arise in the commercialisation of Wheylayer.”

The Wheylayer (“whey protein-coated plastic films to replace expensive polymers and increase recyclability”) project is led by the Spain-based Patronal de la Petita i Mitjana Empresa de Catalunya (PIMEC), and has expert partners from Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain.