SANTIAGO – A “bioactive algal paper” that preserves food longer, especially fresh fruit exports, has been created in Chile using natural ingredients obtained from the radiata pine and marine algae, the leaders of the project announced Monday.
The substance is a biodegradable material that also has antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties and was developed in the southern Biobio region by the Universidad de Concepcion and the BO Paper Bio Bio paper manufacturing plant with the support of the state-run Development Corporation (Corfo).
The aim of the project “is to validate and produce a bioactive algal paper that can reduce by up to 60 percent fruit losses due to oxidation and decomposition due to microbial action that occurs during warehousing and shipment,” said Cristian Agurto, the research chief for the project.
The project “will allow value to be added and diversifying the use of algae and pushing their cultivation, which would provide a new source of income and employment for coastal communities,” said Agurto, the director of Laboratorio Gibmar, who is with the Biotechnology Center and Pharmacy Department at the Universidad de Concepcion.
The undertaking has been considered in various circles to be an important scientific, technological and entrepreneurial innovation project for Chile, which annually exports 2.6 million tons of fresh fruit valued at more than $4 billion.
Of the volume exported, between 3 percent and 5 percent of the fruit never makes it to the tables of consumers in the United States, Europe or China because it spoils during shipment.
Currently, shippers of fruits like grapes, apples, pears, kiwis and others use special papers to protect the products from humidity, spoilage and crushing during shipment.
According to Juan Jose Ugarte, the president of the Corporacion de la Madera, Chile has great potential in its forested areas for “sustainable development, where growth of environment awareness has made paper” into an ever more versatile product.
“We have a line of sustainable products (made from) paper and cardboard that are highly technological and innovative (and) that today are being used by the export industry, and this innovation points toward even greater improvements in the preservation of fruit during shipment,” he said.
Radiata pine covers some two million hectares (about 5 million acres) in Chile, while the algal component and bioactive extracts from marine algae amount to some 360,000 tons per year.