Tomorrow Water, a solution provider of water treatment technologies and eco-friendly waste management solutions, has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to upcycle keratin.
The funding will reportedly support the development of its environmentally friendly technology that extracts and upcycles keratin from discarded animal rendering waste. Tomorrow Water’s application for this SBIR grant was supported by Pilgrim’s Pride, a poultry producer in the United States.
According to Water Tomorrow, this waste stream is rich in keratin. Due to its beneficial dermatological and anti-aging properties, keratin has become increasingly popular in the cosmetic industry.
Existing technologies that extract keratin from animal waste reportedly use large amounts of chemicals such as ammonia, generating significant chemical waste. The technologies can also alter the chemical structure of the keratin, potentially affecting its usefulness, per the announcement.
Tomorrow Water’s technology uses Draco thermal hydrolysis to extract keratin from animal rendering waste using only water, heat and pressure. The keratin can be efficiently purified using FMX, another Tomorrow Water technology. This ultrafiltration system separates the keratin from the Draco-treated animal waste slurry.
Notably, the Draco process preserves the keratin’s original chemical structure, which is important for downstream uses in pharmaceutical products and cosmetics.
The $100,000 SBIR grant will fund phase one development of the Draco-FMX technology. The company will refine and optimize the process before scale-up begins. After this phase, Tomorrow Water will apply for Phase II SBIR funding, which would provide more than $600,000 for prototype scale-up and field demonstration work.
Ken Tasaki, Ph.D., vice president of business development for Tomorrow Water, stated that the company’s Draco technology is a good example of “upcycling” of high-value resources from low-value waste streams: “This provides an eco-friendly and cost-efficient solution to convert a significant waste stream, animal rendering waste, into a substantial profit stream. Innovative processes like ours are crucial to the success of the global push toward a ‘circular economy,’ wherein waste is minimized and valuable resources are recycled.”
Tasaki continued, “Make no mistake–keratin is valuable, with some estimates placing it easily over $1,700 per kilogram depending on the end product. I am proud of our team for what they have accomplished with this technology, which has been in the works for over four years. Now it’s time to accelerate its development and get it out into the world."