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EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food

Tim Foster and Natalie Chiu describe the aims and research activities of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food, which brings together expertise in sustainable manufacturing, formulation engineering and biomaterials science from the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham and Loughborough University.


The food and drink manufacturing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, employing approximately 400,000 people. The gross value added to the economy is £21.9 billion and accounts for almost 16% of total manufacturing turnover in the UK. It is evident that the food and drink industry is a highly valuable asset to the UK and is critical in shaping how food is produced and consumed, which ultimately contributes greatly to the health and wellbeing of the population.

However, there are huge pressures facing the global food system, from farm gate to the consumer and beyond. The challenges of meeting the demands of the growing population, responding to shifting consumption habits and behaviours and tackling epidemic health issues, whilst monitoring environmental impact, will require improved utilisation of limited resources. New science and innovation is vital to develop resilient food systems which, whilst minimising waste, provide long-term, sustainable solutions for food production to supply safe, nutritious food. The EPSRC Centre of Innovative Manufacturing (CIM) in Food was established in December 2013 to address some of these challenges.

Manufacturing expertise

The aim of the EPSRC CIM in Food is to meet the challenges of global food security through developing world-class technologies, tools and leaders. This is tailored to meet the needs of current challenges while redesigning resource-efficient and sustainable, nutritious foods of the future. The £5.6 million Centre is a collaborative venture between the University of Nottingham, the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University. The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Formulation Engineering meets the process needs of industry in the manufacture of micro-structured materials. Loughborough University has a strong focus on sustainable manufacturing and leads in areas, such as sustainable product design, low carbon manufacturing and supply chain management.

The University of Nottingham’s Department of Food Science has a focus on biomaterial processing and has a bespoke food processing facility. Drawing on the strengths of each institution, the centre is well-equipped to tackle food and drink manufacturing issues. With eight academics and over 30 researchers, the Centre has brought together expertise in biomaterial science, formulation engineering and sustainable manufacturing.

The Centre has two overarching challenges:‘sustainable food supply and manufacture and ‘innovative materials, products and processes’. These challenges are broken-down into six research themes, which the centre is focused on:

• Sustainable food supply chain

• Eco-food manufacturing

• New flexible manufacturing processes

• Upgrading ingredients

• Food manufacturing for healthy diets and lifestyles

• Processing technologies

To date, the Centre has over 50 national and international industrial and academic collaborations and has secured over £6.4 million of government and industrial funding. Industrial partners include 2 Sisters Food Group, AB Sugar, Bioscience KTN, Cargill, FDF, McCain Foods (GB), Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle, Pepsico, Premier Foods, J Sainsbury and Unilever. By actively engaging with other institutes, networks and food and drink manufacturers, the EPSRC CIM in Food undertakes innovative research that translates effectively into technologies for the industry that are aligned with consumer needs.

The aim of the EPSRC CIM in Food is to meet the challenges of global food security through developing world-class technologies, tools and leaders."


CIM food wheel


Current research

A better understanding of the interplay between food components and processes is needed to sustainably engineer foods that are fit for purpose. For example, determining how extraction conditions relate to the quality of oleosomes will allow us to identify how these naturally emulsified structures may be applied to food formulations. To design better processes, a fundamental understanding of foam and emulsion formation will enable the design of stable food structures using sustainable solutions that are far less energy intensive.

The food sector needs to take into consideration its environmental impact in manufacturing and must not continue producing at the expense of the environment. An approach to reducing environmental impact is for manufacturers to consider the product design and process of manufacturing as a way of developing resilient supply chains. The Centre is partnering with industry to test these methodologies for factory implementation. Another way to address environmental impact is to categorise and examine the factors contributing to food waste from production to end-product use. These are some of the projects that are being explored at the Centre to aid the reduction and improved utilisation of food waste. The large volumes of effluent generated by the food manufacturing sector represent a significant disposal cost. Researchers have developed a non-invasive sensor which provides feedback on effluent to optimise treatment of water. Another focus of the Centre is the feasibility of food production in relation to distribution chains and how food materials and manufacturing processes can be developed that are more resilient to change. Researchers at the Centre are developing a set of metrics to highlight areas where distributed and localised manufacturing may provide economic, environmental and social benefits. Other research has focused on formulation and processing techniques that are relevant to the food sector. The team is developing new food formulations that can be dried for prolonged shelf life and rehydrated when required to achieve desirable organoleptic properties.

The Centre is also exploring different methods of using edible materials for additive manufacturing. CIM researchers are exploring Fused Deposition Modelling to process food grade biopolymers to create edible filaments. Furthermore, they are using Binder Jetting to create edible 3D printed materials with feature sizes of less than 100 μm. This produces structures with unique and interesting topographies.

Researchers at the Centre are developing a set of metrics to highlight areas where distributed and localised manufacturing may provide economic, environmental and social benefits."

The Centre aims to challenge traditional food production by finding more efficient and effective uses of ingredients and food materials. To align with changing consumer lifestyles, the Centre is exploring ways to meet demands to produce novel products for healthier diets using natural ingredients. Researchers have demonstrated that food grade materials, such as protein-pectin complexes, bees wax and lignin-rich particles, derived from food waste are able to form stable emulsions and foams. Additionally, potential replacements of undesirable solid fats in food products, such as cakes and pastries, are under investigation. Researchers are exploring how to effectively deliver key nutrients for triggered release in the gastrointestinal tract. To improve delivery of such sensitive components, researchers are assessing the processing parameters of specific drying methods and their effects on the integrity of encapsulated nutrient. Research has also been exploring plant-based proteins as sustainable, nutritious filler ingredients, which have been demonstrated to provide added functionality to food microstructure. Other research projects are exploring the functionalities of a range of food hydrocolloids towards the design of healthier foods.

Work at the Centre has been acknowledged by the scientific community with over 40 peer reviewed journal publications. The innovative science and technology developed has diverse industrial applications as highlighted by the eight patents already granted.

Research at the EPSRC CIM in Food will not only support the needs of the food and drink manufacturing sector but also has a key role to play in defining future food research in the UK and globally.

Case Study 1: Sustainable management of food waste

Reducing food waste is one of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. As much as a third of all food produced for human consumption is never eaten. This has significant environmental, social and economic ramifications. It is important to take a holistic approach to understanding food waste rather than considering different aspects in isolation.

The Centre has developed a systematic methodology to categorise types of food waste. Used in conjunction with the food waste hierarchy, the Food Waste Management Decision Tree (FWMDT) is then able to identify the best approach to waste management. This methodology was tested at two large UK food and drink manufacturers: Molson Coors and Quorn Foods. For each business, the detailed breakdown of the types of food waste generated provided far better results than general itemisation.

At Molson Coors, by using FWMDT, two types of waste were identified to be upgradable: waste beer and filter waste. By managing the waste streams in alternative ways, more value could potentially be obtained.

Similarity, analysis of the waste generated at Quorn Foods also showed that one type of waste was upgradable. Food product returns are currently sent to anaerobic digestion. FWMDT has highlighted that by identifying sub-types of food productreturns, some of the food waste could be redistributed for human consumption. [1]

This new methodology can be adapted to individual businesses to improve waste management. It will help to utilise food waste far more effectively.

                       Dried strawberries

Case Study 2: Drying and rehydrating for distributed manufacturing

There are increasing demands for food manufacturers to deliver quality products free-from preservatives to consumers. Drying is used extensively in the food industry to prolong the product shelf life by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and their enzyme activity without the use of preservatives. Some of the most commonly used drying techniques are oven drying and freeze drying. However, these methods can often have detrimental effects on the texture and rehydration capacity of the dried food. This is particularly apparent in fruit and vegetables, which have a high moisture content. The other major drawbacks are the very long processing times and high energy costs.

Osmotic dehydration could be an effective pre-treatment for these drying processes. Foodstuffs are dehydrated by immersing them in a hypertonic solution where moisture diffuses from the food towards the solution.

Researchers at the Centre have shown that by using an osmotic dehydration pretreatment, drying times of strawberries for both oven and freeze drying can be greatly reduced. The mechanical and structural properties of the strawberries were also better retained.

From an industrial point of view this could lead to a reduction in cost and improvement in the quality of the product.

Formulation of relocation of lignin to particle surface to form hydrophobic Pickering Particles

Case Study 3: Upgrading food waste for emulsion stabilisation

Pickering particles are solid particles that are adsorbed at the oil/water interface to stabilise emulsions. They can be used to replace artificial surfactants and offer stability and prolonged shelf-life. However, most of these Pickering particles require chemical modification and are often restricted in food application. Previous work at the Centre has demonstrated that natural Pickering particles, which are suitable for food application, have emulsifying properties in part due to lignin.

Based on this finding, research was conducted to utilise the hydrophobic nature of lignin to design Pickering particles to stabilise food emulsions. Ground coffee waste was selected due to the natural presence of lignin in cell wall material, the current acceptance of coffee in food and beverages and the generation of large quantities of coffee waste globally. In Europe alone, manufacturing instant coffee produces approximately 300,000 tonnes of spent coffee waste annually, in addition to 550,000 tonnes of ground coffee waste a year from UK coffee shops and households.

The research has demonstrated that waste coffee particles can act as Pickering particles for oil-inwater emulsions and water-in-oil emulsions. The emulsions were stable over a wide range of pH, shear and temperature conditions. This research has established that lignin-rich food waste can be upgraded to functional food ingredients that are capable of stabilising emulsions. [2]

This work has led to follow-on funding for two PhD projects investigating alternative thermal processing and extraction protocols to create a range of natural lignin-rich particles for food formulations.


Professor Tim Foster and Dr Natalie Chiu, EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food


Tel: +44 (0) 115 951 6154 Web:



1. Garcia-Garcia, G., et al., A Methodology for Sustainable Management of Food Waste. Waste and Biomass Valorization, 2016: p. 1-19.

2. Gould, J., G. Garcia-Garcia, and B. Wolf, Pickering particles prepared from food waste. Materials, 2016. 9(9): p. 791.


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