Edible Innovations: Redirecting Wine Byproducts into Plant Based Leather

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Edible Innovations: Redirecting Wine Byproducts into Plant Based Leather

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

There is no denying it: food waste is a problem. Every year, one-third of the global food production is currently wasted. In the United States, 40 percent of the food produced goes uneaten.

Sustainable Development Goal #12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030. This is a compelling target to achieve. It pushes all of us to both reduce waste and employ unused and wasted materials in the creation of new objects and foods.

Vegea (created by both Gianpiero and Francesco) works towards achieving this goal. They made a material called Wineleather, a biomaterial obtained from processing the oils and lignocellulose contained in grape marc (the vegetal raw material consisting of the grape skins, stalks and seeds derived from the wine production). After years of research on different agro-industrial plant-based matrices, the two Italians discovered that grape marc contain multifunctional components that are perfectly suited for eco-sustainable technical fabrics.

The production process begins with pressing the grapes and separating the grape marc. These operations are carried out by wineries, and are the heart of wine production. The grape marc is dried to avoid degradation and to enable its preservation up to three years from the date of desiccation. This operation helps secure the raw material for Vegea’s production throughout the year, without the need to wait for the harvesting period. Next, physical and mechanical patented treatments are carried out, thus obtaining a mixture that is then coated and transformed into sheets of the material. The production process ends up with dedicated and specific finishing treatments that allow Vegea to create leather of different kinds of weight, thickness, elasticity, and texture.

“We believe that the exploitation of winemaking by-products is crucial for environmental sustainability. In Vegea’s production process, these organic by-products are transformed into a high value added biomaterial,” says Gianpiero. “The adopted circular economy model is the response to the challenges connected to the linear economy model, getting no longer sustainable, inefficient and expensive as it uses non renewable sources.”

The production is now at a pilot scale, but the potential impact is impressive. Currently, 19% of the total global wine production is in Italy, followed by France (16%), Spain (14.6%) and the United States (9%). From 26 billion liters of wine produced worldwide every year, there is the opportunity for deriving 7 billion kilograms of grape marc to potentially produce 2.6 billion square meters of leather every year.

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini


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