Giuseppe Mazza, Mazza Innovation
When we think of how to decrease our collective ecological footprint, it’s normally the big things that first come to mind: automobiles and transit, fossil fuel extraction and power plants, concrete and steel. We tend to forget that there are tremendous opportunities for increased efficiencies and decreased ecological impact from even the most modest or esoteric technologies and processes.
We leave these kinds of opportunities for the real experts, like Dr. Giuseppe (Joe) Mazza, Founder and CEO of Mazza Innovation Ltd out of Summerland BC. Dr. Mazza is leading the way in the little-known field of phytochemical extraction.
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring, non-nutritive chemical compounds derived from plants. They are what make blueberries blue and carrots orange, or what may enable tomatoes to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The reason we extract phytochemicals, instead of simply eating more tomatoes, is that often they occur in plants that we may not otherwise choose to eat.
Extraction of these phytochemicals has been around since the beginning of time, and we’re all familiar with it, explains Dr. Mazza, “you put tea in a cup of water and mix it, and that’s extraction.” But the real market lies in dietary supplements, and that has been the main focus of phytochemical extraction in Dr. Mazza’s 25 years of experience.
It can take a great deal of effort to get at some of these substances. They are locked away in fruits, vegetables, grains, and organic waste. Phytochemicals are “traditionally extracted using organic solvents,” says Dr. Mazza, such as acetone or hexane. While effective, the production of such chemicals is energy and resource intensive, and these solvents can also be found to varying degrees in the end product – which is often food. Avoiding the use of these solvents can be both economically and environmentally beneficial. This is also not a small-scale industry: the market for nutrients and herbal extracts is expected to be worth $3.3 billion to the North American economy in by 2013.
“What we do,” says Dr. Mazza, “instead of using water at the normal pressure and temperature conditions, we put water under low pressure and by doing so we modify the properties of the water, under those conditions we can extract a variety of different compounds.” This technology, called Pressurized Low Polarity Water (PLPW) - works out to be several times cheaper than conventional methods. “We can reuse the water,” he explains. If the water won’t be used in the end-product (a nutrient-enhanced drink, for example) membrane separation can be used to purify for re-use. Energy is also conserved and re-used as much as possible, “while we are separating the water, we reincorporate as much energy as we can.”
This is a technology that can have a range of applications, depending on the raw material and the desired extract. “We work with companies that have a certain raw material,” explains Dr. Mazza, such as grape pomace left-over from the wine-making process. What may otherwise be waste, compost, or animal feed can become a high-value extract, “you could sell that as a drink, or an antioxidant compound.”
A demonstration system was delivered last month, making use of waste material from vineyards in the Okanagan, and buckwheat and flax seed from the prairie provinces. Eventually Mazza plans to partner with large-scale processors. “The next six to eight months are going to be challenging,” he explains. They will be going through the steps of ensuring the process is economically viable at scale. “We can run about 100 kilograms of material per hour, but we can scale that up,” he says. “The next level is a more continuous system.”
Mazza Innovation has already gained recognition in the green tech community, starting with winning 2nd place in the Regional BC Innovation Council New Ventures Contest, followed by the $20,000 Bioenergy Network Prize, a $175,000 grant from the federal government Agricultural Innovation Program, and $85,000 from the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program. While this kind of funding can help with building and piloting demonstration units, private capital and partnerships will be necessary to take the technology to the next level.
“I’m looking for experienced investors,” says Dr. Mazza. “Hopefully by early spring we can have our first system in an industrial situation. We intend to build them as far and as fast as we can, around the globe.” As an expert in his field, Dr. Mazza has shown how research and innovation has the potential to not only change the rules of a multi-billion dollar industry, but also take us one step closer to an environmentally sustainable economy.