Project looks at commercial uses for ryegrass by-products

A Welsh university is hoping to find novel commercial uses for the by-products of a greener fuel made from ryegrass.

Researchers from Glyndŵr University will investigate how sugars from new forms of ryegrass can be chemically modified to produce additives, which could be used as a thickening or gelling agent in a range of products in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

They will work with scientists from Aberystwyth University and Bangor University in a pan-Wales research project that has been awarded more than £450,000 in funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Integrated Bio-refining Research and Technology Club (IBTI).

Glyndŵr University will focus its research on fructans in new strains of ryegrass, grown on land unsuitable for arable farming, which have been developed by plant biologists at Aberystwyth to produce biofuel.

Traditional ryegrasses store their carbohydrates as starch, a very stable molecule that is difficult to modify. In the new ryegrasses, however, these are stored as fructans, long chains of fruit sugar molecules that can be easily modified using chemicals — without impacting upon the suitability of the grass for producing biofuel.

A third Welsh university, Bangor, will look at ways to increase the yield of the fructans and minimise waste products by using its expertise in sonication, a scientific process that uses soundwaves to agitate particles.

The project is being led by Prof Peter Williams, director of the Centre for Water-Soluble Polymers at Glyndŵr University, who said that the isolation and modification of fructans for use in industry would make the crops more cost effective for farmers and encourage their growth.