Autumn leaves offer visual and olfactive beauty, as well as an entertaining opportunity to leap into massive leaf piles.
Now, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is developing leaf-processing technologies that could produce pigments and bioactive ingredients for the cosmetics industry, effectively using biotechnological methods to modify pigments.
The center noted, "Pigments from autumn leaves can be used to color cosmetics and textiles. The chemical composition of leaves varies largely between different tree species. Added value can be obtained by processing the autumn leaves of certain tree types only, thereby producing well-defined compounds suitable for new products."
"In laboratory experiments, we discovered several, promising alternative ways of utilizing leaves."
Autumn leaves derive their color from orange and yellow carotenoids and red anthocyanins, according to the center. These pigments could have some health-promoting effects.
Nutrient-rich residual biomass could be further processed to produce compounds that inhibit the growth of harmful microbes in cosmetics.
Innovations in the area of pigments could vastly improve sustainability by offering an alternative to leaf landfilling or incineration around the world.
The research is currently in the pilot phase.
"In laboratory experiments, we discovered several, promising alternative ways of utilizing leaves," said Liisa Nohynek, senior scientist at VTT. "Piloting assays are under way, in which we are examining how our methods work in practice and what quantities of valuable compounds can be extracted from the leaves."