Closing the loop in chocolate: Barry Callebaut collaborates on ‘ground-breaking’ process to turn hazelnut shells into vanillin

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Hazelnut shells can be upcycled into vanillin through a 'ground-breaking' new process / Pic: GettyImages-vfoto
Hazelnut shells can be upcycled into vanillin through a 'ground-breaking' new process / Pic: GettyImages-vfoto

Related tags Circular economy Barry callebaut Upcycling

Barry Callebaut has joined forces with Swiss chemistry start-up Bloom Biorenewables to investigate upcycling chocolate side streams. The first result: vanillin produced from hazelnut shells.

Swiss chocolate giant Barry Callebaut is working in partnership with Bloom Biorenewables to examine how waste produced during chocolate manufacturing could ‘support the fight against climate change’ and help Barry Callebaut become carbon positive by 2025.

Bloom is a ‘small’ organisation of scientists founded by two chemists, Dr Remy Buser and Dr Florent Héroguel, from the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne).

The start-up’s ambition is to establish biomass as a 'mainstream alternative' to fossil materials. Their technology converts plant material, which has stored carbon captured from the atmosphere while the plant is growing, into molecules that can replace fossil-based solutions in a ‘wide range of uses’.

“Plants will undoubtedly play a major role in replacing fossil resources. Agricultural and forestry industries already produce large quantities of sustainable carbon feedstocks, but a large volume of this material is discarded and released back into the atmosphere, when it could be stored and reutilized,”​ explained Dr Buser, CEO and co-founder.

Converting chocolate side-streams into ‘useful resources’

Barry Callebaut connected with Bloom via MassChallenge Switzerland, an incubator that the chocolate group co-founded in 2016​. 

“As a founding partner of MassChallenge Switzerland, Barry Callebaut continues to build its track record of collaborating with high-impact start-ups to tackle big challenges. Together we explore, test, advance and champion ideas with the potential to support us on our journey towards a sustainable cocoa and chocolate supply chain," ​the company said. 

Barry Callebaut was ‘electrified’ by Bloom’s proposition and kicked off the collaboration to investigate the potential to convert chocolate and cocoa production side streams into reusable material.

The first successful project has seen Bloom work alongside La Morella Nuts, Barry Callebaut’s specialty nut brand. Bloom found hazelnut shells have ‘promising’ biomass production.

Bloom Biorenewables - Barry Callebaut
Converting hazelnut shells into vanillin using 'green chemicals' / Pic: Bloom Biorenewables - Barry Callebaut

Thanks to the start-ups ‘ground-breaking’ process, the nutshells can be efficiently converted into flavouring agents, such as the main element of vanilla flavouring, vanillin. This can then be used in chocolate production.

“The start-up uses a mild chemical process, which prevents the natural components of nutshells from degradation during the fractionation step,​” explained Barry Callebaut media relations chief Frank Keidel.

Currently, the project is at pilot scale, but Keidel told FoodNavigator Barry Callebaut is ‘supporting efforts’ to move from pilot to demo plant.

The ‘first of many’ possibilities

Barry Callebaut said this innovation represents an exciting opportunity to ‘close the loop’ in chocolate production.

Transforming nutshells into vanillin is the ‘first of many’ possibilities that will be evaluated with Bloom.

“This is a promising start and we will evaluate further opportunities,”​ Keidel said, adding that it is ‘too early to reveal’ what these may be.

The emphasis will not necessarily remain on upcycling side-streams for human nutrition, Keidel revealed. “Our focus is to achieve a sustainable supply chain, which means to optimise in many ways. This could include non-edible usage like packaging.”

Massimo Selmo, Global Head of Sourcing at Barry Callebaut, said that the development feeds into Barry Callebaut’s sustainability strategy and, in particular, its aim to be ‘carbon positive’ by 2025.

“Turning waste streams from our production processes into valuable ingredients is a unique story that resonates loudly with our Forever Chocolate sustainability program, and especially with our target to be carbon positive by 2025,”​ Selmo noted.

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