Turning agri-food waste into high-value bio-actives and functional fibres


Novatica Technologies Ltd

The background:

Novatica Technologies Ltd is dedicated to developing and promoting cutting-edge bio- and chemical technologies for a sustainable and prosperous future. One of their key projects is the Phenolexa research and innovation initiative, funded by Horizon 2020. The project aims to create a safe, effective, and environmentally friendly biorefinery process to extract valuable polyphenolic bioactive compounds from agricultural by-products that would otherwise go to waste and utilise them in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and cosmetic products.

Dr. Maria Sotenko, one of the co-founders of Novatica Technologies Ltd, assembled the consortium of project partners. She reached out to Civitta for additional assistance in preparing the initial proposal for Horizon 2020 and asked us to join the consortium.

Aim of the project:

After we successfully prepared the Horizon 2020 proposal and the Phenolexa project was funded, we became responsible for its management and coordination. We handled logistics, coordinated work packages, organised meetings, and managed external communications. Additionally, we managed financial matters. Our senior consultant was responsible for financial reporting, collecting information from our partners, and ensuring project compliance with future audits.

We also had to oversee the ethical aspects of the project. Our responsibility was to gather data from the consortium detailing studies on various cell lines that our scientists plan to use. We had to ensure that we addressed all the questions the European Commission expected to be answered.

Right from the first steps, the Phenolexa project wasn’t shying away from the big challenges our team had to solve. Good thing we love puzzles! For example, we often needed to ship materials in solid or liquid form between partners, but the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t making it easy for us. Even now, we still encounter similar issues because some materials contain 70% alcohol, which exceeds the allowable limit for air travel and could be mistaken for a security threat by airlines. Fun fact: once, we had to prove to the airlines that our package was meant to make a massive BOOM in the scientific world, not their plane. For reasons like that, we were constantly looking for the best ways to dry and ship out materials in solid form. 

The most challenging part of the project was figuring out the optimal amount of waste needed to make the final product financially viable for establishing such factories worldwide. We are still exploring the best solutions in this area.

Services provided:

  • Assisting with the preparation of the initial proposal for the Horizon 2020 funding program.
  • Drafting amendments to the grant agreements.
  • Coordinating and managing the project.
  • Handling the financial aspects of the project.
  • Supervising the ethical aspects of the research.

Project results:

The Phenolexa project, which commenced in 2021, is approaching its conclusion. Over the past few years, our consortium has found a way to transform dry agricultural waste into value through an innovative biorefinery process. Functional polyphenolic bioactives can be used for a broad range of applications, such as bakery, dairy-based or functional foods, beverages, supplements, traditional medicine, and cosmetics.

Partners involved in the Phenolexa project have recently released three scientific publications to share the outcomes of their research:

  • Green Chemistry. A more environmentally friendly and efficient method to produce N-acetylcolchinol has been developed. This new process utilises electrochemistry for redox reactions, replacing traditional methods that involve transition metals or potentially harmful reagents. Colchicine, a well-known pseudo-alkaloid, is widely used in the treatment of gout, immune-mediated diseases, and psoriatic arthritis.
  • New Journal of Chemistry. A one-step catalytic method has been developed to incorporate terpene fragments into the aromatic rings of commonly found natural stilbenoids and flavonoids, aiming to enhance their therapeutic properties.
  • World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. There’s a proposed microbial pre-treatment method that could potentially be used to repurpose onion skins as a fermentation substrate. This could serve as the initial step in creating a biorefinery process to generate high-value products from onion by-products.


Anneli Roose

Associate Partner, Tartu, Estonia