"PHENOLEXA" project: a biorefinery process focused on agricultural waste streams


PHENOLEXA project schematic representation
PHENOLEXA project schematic representation

Over the last few decades, a demand for the development of circular economy solutions in bio-based industry is significantly increasing to maximize the resources efficiency by utilizing agricultural, forestry and food side streams as suitable feedstocks for the production of fuels, fertilizers, polymers, fibres, platform chemicals, food and animal feed additives. According to Eurostat (, the agricultural sector is the biggest producer of the residual biomass in Europe, by producing annually approximately 400 million tons of dry agricultural waste. This residual biomass is highly rich in various bioactive compounds (oils, fatty acids, polyphenols, proteins) which could be used to improve the human health and wellbeing. Among the natural bio-based compounds, polyphenols are the principal class of bioactives characterized by a range of beneficial properties for human health. They are usually underused for high-value applications due to the scarcity of technology useful for effective extraction and preservation of their functional traits by safe, economically sustainable and environmental-friendly strategies. 

The PHENOLEXA project aims to develop a benign, efficient and environmentally friendly biorefinery process to address this challenge, by focusing on specific agricultural waste streams (olive, grape shoots and leaves, chicory, and onion residues) that are not currently full investigated for high-value bioactive compounds. PHENOLEXA will use a novel biological and physical feedstock pre-treatment followed by benign extraction by innovative green solvents and subcritical water, maximising efficiency and preserving the desired qualities of the polyphenols. The ultimate goal is to obtain new functional polyphenol-based bioactives fully characterized for their activities (anticancer, antiviral, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory) and that can be proposed for possible bio-based applications in as pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products, whereas the remaining fibres and colorants will be utilized in functional foods formulations.

The Institute of Sciences of Food Production of the National Research Council of Italy (Cnr-Ispa) has the scientific coordination of the project, is WP5 leader (Characterization of the bio-ingredients activities for their use in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals and functional food products) and it is actively involved in WP3 (Technology lab-scale development and verification) and WP4 (Technologies upscale and validation at TRL 4/5).

The multidisciplinary Cnr-Ispa team involved will address the following issues:

i) Development and optimization of bio-pre-treatment technologies (microbial fermentation) of feedstocks for increasing the extractable bioactive compounds;

ii) In vitro studies for the evaluation of stability, bioaccessibility and bioavailability of the bioactive compounds by simulated gastro-intestinal digestion coupled with cellular lines model;

iii) Evaluation of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory activities of bioactive compounds and prebiotic properties of dietary fibers;

iv) Studies on antimicrobial and antifungal activities of the bioactive compounds;

v) Design and production of functional food prototypes under laboratory conditions and assessment of their chemical, microbiological, and sensory characteristics.

H2020-BBI-JTI-2020 – 101023225

Project funded by the European Union’s program Horizon 2020 under the call Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) Call 2020 SO2 R4, Extract bioactive compounds from new, under-exploited and/or recalcitrant residual bio-based streams for high-value applications

TOTAL Budget: € 4,613,695
BBI JU contribution: €3,902,695

Start date: June 1th, 2021
End date: May 31th 2024

The project consortium, coordinated by CIVITTA (Estonia), is composed by 12 partners from 8 different European countries: Novatica Technologies (UK), Eurecat (Spagna), CARTIF Technology Centre (Spain), CELABOR (Belgium), Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toru? (Poland), University of Loughborough (UK), Bionigree Sp.zo.o. (Poland), EPC-Project Corporation Climate (Germany), Chambre Régionale d’Agriculture Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur (France), Carinsa (Spain) and Institute of Sciences of Food Production (CNR-ISPA, Italy).

Per informazioni:
Angela Cardinali
Via Amendola 122/O 70125 BARI
+39 080 5929303
Cnr-Ispa Team:
Antonio Logrieco, 080/5929357 email:
Isabella D'Antuono, 080/5929304 email:
Gianluca Bleve, 0832/422604 email:
Antonella Garbetta, 080/5929303 email:
Federico Baruzzi, 080/5929319 email:

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