umu logotyp ENLTU eng blue slu logo rgb web RISE logo

CristhianCarrasco CarlosMartín LeifJönssonFrom left: Cristhian Carrasco, Carlos Martín and Leif Jönsson on the Bolivian Altiplano, at the start of the Quinoa Project in 2017. Photo by courtesy of Carlos Martín.A groundbreaking research project on turning inedible residue from quinoa production in the Andes of South America into bio-based products, will have a long-term continuation. Fresh funds from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and a great investment of time and resources by the project leaders, mean that a number of students will be trained to lead the work in Bolivia and that new bio-based materials will be developed.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of Bio4Energy at Umeå University (UmU), Sweden and Cristhian Carrasco of Bolivian Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, lead a part of the newly granted five-year Research Cooperation Programme that targets the development of bio-based materials.

The pair will oversee research and training on production of bio-based polymers—bio-based substances or materials consisting of very large molecules—that will eventually result in new materials made from quinoa stalks. These latter are what is left over after the protein-rich edible part of the plant has been removed.

The pharmaceutical and food industry are targets for the bio-based materials to be developed.

Bolivia, along with other Latin American nations place great belief in the nascent bioeconomy to provide renewable products and sustenance to farmers in financially challenged regions sharing the Andean Altiplano, the high-altitude plateau of the mountain range that straddles Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Especially the sector referred to as agribusiness is a great contender for bio-based products. Quinoa is a staple product of Andean agriculture, giving rise to large amounts of biomass residue, which is either burnt or disposed of as waste.

The bio-based polymers will be produced from highly salt-resistant bacteria found at the Salar de Uyuni part of the Bolivian Altiplano. In fact, these bacteria make polymers as a way to protect themselves against the high salt concentration of soils in their natural habitat. As part of the project, quinoa stalks hydrolysates—syrups of quinoa stalk sugar— will be prepared to encourage bacterial growth and so to make bio-based polymers.

Capacity building and edging close to industrial application

“At the end of this first five-year project, we expect to be closer to application of the results [in industry]. We will also have educated doctoral students and prepared another step of the SIDA programme. There will be another five-year programme after this”, said Martín, who is a research group leader on the platform Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies.

This so-called Quinoa Project is long term and heavily invested in. Could it even have an effect on Bolivia’s economy?

“Yes it will, definitely. Capacity building is a focus. There will be new skilled professionals that can contribute to the development of Bolivia. That is why SIDA decided to grant these funds”, according to Martín, who is a native of Cuba and currently a research fellow at UmU, Sweden. 

The scientists published two scientific articles so far, relevant to bio-based materials; with three or four more to follow by autumn this year.

Effects of Biosurfactants on Enzymatic Saccharification and Fermentation of Pre-treated SoftwoodMolecules 25(16):3559

Exopolysaccharides Production by Cultivating a Bacterial Isolate from the Hypersaline Environment of Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) in Pretreatment Liquids of Steam-Exploded Quinoa Stalks and Enzymatic Hydrolysates of Curupaú SawdustFermentation 7(1):33

Bio4Energy on Twitter