MUÑOZ, Nueva Ecija: The Department of Agriculture-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) has invested a total of P78 million for the establishment of its Bio-Processing Research and Development facility in its headquarters here. Ofer Caparino, PhilMech-Bioprocess Engineering Division (BPED) head, said of the total amount invested, P53 million was for the acquisition of laboratory equipment including a microscope that has a magnifying power of up to 300,000 times costing P10 million. PhilMech recently inaugurated its Bio-Processing Research and Development facility, which is expected to produce research outputs that will benefit farmer-producers, food processors and exporters of farm products. Caparino said the BPED was created to develop technologies and value-added products from agriculture produce and even wastes and has already produced a number of ground-breaking researches. ”The decision was largely in consideration of the tremendous importance of the food and beverage processing sector to our economy, which, according to the National Statistics Office, contributed P903.7 billion to our economy in 2011 or 58 percent of our total manufacturing output for said year,” the BPED head noted. With the Bio-Processing Research and Development facility, Caparino said, the BPED can undertake more researches and commercialize matured technologies faster that will benefit not only farmer-producers but also food processors and exporters of farm products. In 2012, one of PhilMech’s ground-breaking researches under BPED was the completion of a pioneering research in the production of pharmaceutical grade pectin. The BPED chief explained that the extract is mainly used by food processing, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries as thickening, gelling and stabilizing agents, from mango peels at a cost of approximately P5,667.51 per kilo. Caparino said this is more than five times cheaper than the landed cost of imported apple pectin at P27,122.56 per kilo. Meanwhile, PhilMech has also researches made in producing charcoal briquettes from burned rice straws and discarded cacao husks. Caparino said PhilMech estimates a volume of 3.382 million metric tons (MT) of cacao husks are thrown away every year, adding that drippings or sweating produced from cacao prior to fermenting can also be used to make soft drinks, wine and vinegar. PhilMech also saw the potential for discarded rice straws to be processed into animal feed and from coconut husks to be made into water filters. It estimates about 18 million MT of rice straw annually and 1.8 million MT of coconut husks which the country produces. Further, Caparino said discarded cashew kernels can be processed into a liquid that can be used as raw material for friction dusts of brake linings and as fuel for industrial furnaces. The BPED head said cashew kernels can also be processed into friction dust also for brake linings and clutch facings. According to PhilMech, the bio-processing facility will develop processes that will help farmers add value to their products, or process them into finished products that have longer shelf life besides discovering the uses of discarded agricultural wastes. “The development of processes to develop more products from agriculture products and wastes is the primary R&D [research and development]agenda of the Bio-Processing Research and Development facility,” Caparino said.
LEANDER C. DOMINGO