Australian ethylene powder could outcompete ripening rooms
Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have encapsulated ethylene gas into a highly concentrated powder, which can be used in small amounts to ripen fruit during transit.
The RipeStuff technology was successfully tested in late 2011 with a commercial shipment of 20 metric tons (MT) of mangoes on a 4000km (2485mi) journey from Darwin to Adelaide over four days, and will be commercialized by UniQuest Pty Ltd.
“It is anticipated the cost of producing ethylene powder will be profoundly less than ripening room ethylene treatment and is likely to be less than the ethylene release canister product developed in New Zealand and commercialized by US company Balchem,” a Uniquest release said.
“In addition the UQ ethylene powder delivery system is substantially smaller and not under pressure making it easier and safer [to] use and distribute to end users.”
Fruits that ripen after harvest are referred to as ‘climacteric’, including bananas, tomatoes, mangoes, avocados, pears, papayas and others.
UniQuest highlighted the existing system of refrigerated ripening rooms added delays, significant costs and carbon emissions to the supply chain, leading to lost sales and profits for growers and often poor quality fruit.
The company also pointed out the process meant growers had to depend on ripening infrastructure, whose owners effectively acted as gatekeepers in most major consumer markets around the world.
“In-transit ripening may enable fruit producers to bypass ripening rooms in consumer markets, gaining control of their own distribution,” the release said.
“In-transit ripening may also be of interest in less developed markets where ripening infrastructure doesn’t exist or is poor. The availability of this technology may have the benefit of improving the quality and therefore profitability of fruit production in developing market.”
UniQuest highlighted sometimes fruit producers could not access ripening rooms, sometimes leading to “pears and avocados that do not ripen, mangoes and bananas that remain green on the outside but soft and ripe internally and citrus with green skin”.
“In Australia at present pears and stonefruit that require ethylene ripening to result in a soft ripe fruit for consumers are not ripened in ethylene ripening rooms due to the costs associated with the ripening process and the very large volume of the produce handled.
“Pear and stonefruit growers have indicated a desire by retail chains and the growers to have access to an affordable ripening solution as the current ripening infrastructure costs are prohibitive.”
UniQuest said the start-up ethylene powder company will undertake a small scale batch manufacture in 2013, developing packaging and delivery systems while working with potential customers to test products in experimental and real supply situations.
“A significant number of national and two international companies have expressed interest in trialling this technology.
“In the first instance the start-up will manufacture RipeStuff at UQ and will distribute directly to a small number of end customers for evaluation purposes.
“Once industrial proof of principle has been achieved the start-up will establish third party commercial production capacity, but at least initially will continue to distribute its products directly to customers.”
Trials with international customers are also expected next year with distribution to a small number of large clients in the U.S. and U.K. later in the year or in 2014.
“Following the success of this technology manufacturing will be licensed to third parties in major markets in the USA, Europe and Asia.”