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Axia Institute Researcher Awarded MTRAC Grant


 Axia Institute Receives MTRAC Grant

Dr. Bahar Aliakbarian, Research Leader at the Axia Institute and adjunct faculty in Michigan State University’s Supply Chain Management department was recently awarded a grant from the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program. The project, titled “Creating Incremental Revenue from Industrial Cherry Wastes,” seeks to reduce the amount of biomass (cherry pits) that are currently disposed of in landfills, while generating revenue from this waste. This project is a collaboration between Dr. Aliakbarian and researchers from Department of Forestry at MSU.

As reported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Michigan currently ranks 1st as a producer of tart cherries and 4th as a producer of sweet cherries in the United States; 94,500 and 21,300 tons respectively, were produced in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the industrial production of cherry-based foods results in huge amounts of by-products, including cherry pomace, tar, and pits. These residual substances, however, are rich in valuable intracellular compounds, e.g., polyphenols with antioxidant properties. Once recovered and valorized, these by-products represent an extremely viable, but untapped opportunity to realize economic and social benefits. Depending on the process used, cherry pomace (skin and flesh) for example, can comprise approximately 28% of the initial fruit. Similarly, the cherry pit accounts for up to 15% of the whole fruit. While most of these by-products are ultimately wasted, some of them are used for animal feed, fuel or for preparation of activated carbons.

At the national level, the aim of this project aligns well with the USDA goals of reducing food waste and improving food safety. As indicated by the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) Agency, over 126 million metric tons of food were wasted in 2017 across the food supply chain in the United States alone. The USDA announced a goal to cut this waste in half by 2030. The use and valorization of wastes, still rich in nutrients, is a potential solution for minimizing environmental impact generated by these by nutrient rich by-products.

One of the key opportunities for the recovery of these nutrient rich by-products is for use as antioxidants. The global antioxidants market is projected is expected to reach $4.531 billion by 2022. The market is experiencing modest growth at a Consolidated Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.42% during the forecast period of 2014–2020. This growth will be fueled primarily by the rising application of antioxidants in cosmetics and other skincare products. The food and feed industries are also showing increased interest in using natural antioxidants.

The outcome of this research is a powder that is rich in bioactive compounds with enhanced bioavailability, water solubility, and stability compared to synthetic and non-encapsulated antioxidants. The application of these natural high value-added materials is broad and could include use as pharmaceuticals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, active packaging with antibacterial properties, anti-aging cosmetic formulation ingredients. Other opportunities include food integrators with antioxidant benefits.

Importantly, the biorefinery platform upon which this research is based can be extended to by-products from other foods including apples, berries, grapes, olives, and corn, each of which produce biomasses with rich nutrient by-products. The use of these techniques in other areas has the potential to yield even greater economic and social benefits through the repurposing of this waste.

For additional details on this research as well as the other research projects in Axia’s portfolio, please visit


The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program expanded statewide in 2016, as the MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio. This is the first in a series of specialized statewide commercialization programs with in-depth domain expertise in specific areas of research. The goal of the MTRAC program is to translate research into the commercial market by way of a license or startup.