From the fashion to the energy – rind and seeds of the Sicily’s most famous citrus, the humble orange, are being used in a range of more green and healthy business initiatives.
In 2011, Adriana Santonocito was a design student in Milan, when she had the idea of making sustainable textiles of what was naturally abundant and widely wasted, in his native Sicilian city of Catania.
Their challenge was to find a way for the shells of hundreds of thousands of tons of oranges to be put to good use.
Now, thanks to her creative thinking, it is possible to make all items of clothing fiber that is originated from the fruit. Chemical process
Ms Santonocito’s concept was inspired by a question posed in his doctoral thesis of the university. Could a foulard silk luxury is made from citrus products, that would otherwise be disposed of or fed to cattle?
The issue was particularly relevant in Sicily, where many thousands of tons of citrus juice each year, leaving large amounts of waste.
The 39-year-old found his answer in the laboratories of the university, and obtained a patent.
It was already known that cellulose can be extracted from orange peels. But Ms Santonocito found that the use of chemical reagents, could be made into thread, that can be dyed and blended with other textiles, such as cotton or polyester.
Along with his colleague at the university of Enrica Arena, she founded the Orange Fiber in 2014, and is dedicated to the sale of the silk as the material for the clothing-manufacturers.
This year, the famous fashion brand Italian Salvatore Ferragamo used it in his spring-summer collection. The goal was to make its high-end t-shirts, dresses and foulards more sustainable.
Orange Fiber, which now has a team of 12 people, operates from a local juice processing plant, where you put the waste material of free.
The business is partially seasonal, operating during the months of the year, when the juice-maker works. But once the orange peel has been transformed into the cellulose, can be put in storage for later use.
Antonio Perdichizzi, one of the early investors in Fiber-Orange, said the firm stood out to him, because, unlike most of the innovative ventures in Italy, it is not digital.
“Italy does not invest much in innovation, but their bright ideas and skills of winning, despite the lack of resources,” he adds.
Rosario, Chairman, a professor of business, economics and administration in the University of Catania, says that the firm is an example of how “the creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit” is the creation of new jobs and businesses in the region.Fiber – not fat
Oranges could also make baked goods healthy, and stay fresher, thanks to a new procedure which transforms them into an innovative fat-free flour.
The new technique is currently being tested at the University of Catania and the results are encouraging.
For the moment, almost all bakers use grease, butter or margarine in your kitchen.
But according to the research, half of this fat can be replaced by the use of the flour obtained from orange peels, seeds and part of pulp is not used in juice making.
As the Orange Fiber, the researchers obtain the raw materials they need from local juice makers. They wash the shells to remove the bitter taste and dry, process and bleach what’s left.
Salvatore Barbagallo, professor of agriculture at the University of Catania, says the flour is “perfectly sustainable” and cost almost nothing to produce. It also has “no impact” in the flavor and aroma of the food that contains it.
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Its researchers made 300kg of flour and got local bakers in Acireale, near Catania, to try it out.
Chefs, known for being conservative about new ingredients, were happy with the results and could prove that there is no difference in their cakes.
The researchers say they have found other uses for the flour, also.
It is soluble and can be added to beverages to provide health benefits. It could also be used by nutritionists and medicine.Natural fuel
Sicilian farmers have always used orange peels as animal food or fertilizer. But oranges can be a valuable source of energy.
In Mussomeli, a former town near Caltanissetta, in central Sicily, orange waste products are used to make biogas that is converted into electricity.
The farm Scala Nuova uses on 16,430 tons of shells of the past year to produce 24,000 kWh of electricity.
Output varies depending on the amount of oranges produced, and the company expects to get through 22,000 tonnes of orange waste in 2017.
Of course, all these projects depend on local fruit companies, which produce thousands of tons of citrus products annually.
Salvatore Imbesi, who owns the producer AgrumiGel, says the peel, seeds, and other inedible parts of the fruit is called “pastazzo”, and produces around 40,000 tonnes per year.
He says Sicily as a whole produces around 200,000 tonnes, but unofficial estimates suggest the real number could be higher.
The producers have an incentive to re-use pastazzo, because removal can be expensive. Mr Imbesi says that in Sicily the total cost of the removal, it can reach up to 16 million euros each year, “six for the cost of transportation, and 10 for the removal of himself.”
Some of Sicily, the fruit is sold fresh, including their famous oranges of blood, with the rest turned into juices.
In 2016, the amount of juice including some 140,000 tons of lemons, 100,000 tons of blonde oranges, 100,000 tons of blood oranges, 20,000 tons of green tangerines and 20,000 tonnes of ripened tangerines.
Finally, thanks to the new generation of innovative solutions, the pressing of the fruit turned from face to waste on interesting products.