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Application development for the starch/protein Air Current-Assisted Particle Separation Technology (ACAPS)

A team of University of Alberta scientists is developing new ways to fractionate faba beans to get at their high-value components.

It’s a good time to be a pulse grower in Alberta. There’s every indication that the pulse sector will diversify beyond its long-standing domestic and global business, through the many new pulse fractionation plants being planned and built in Western Canada.

To unlock the true economic potential of Alberta’s pulse crops, efficient and cost-effective processing methods will need to be developed, tested and perfected. On the other hand, if processing methods proven to work in other crops can be adapted to pulses, why reinvent the wheel?

One example is Air Current-Assisted Particle Separation (ACAPS) technology. Developed at the University of Alberta by Thava Vasanthan, the technology fractionates cereal crops quickly and cost-effectively. Think of ACAPS as a tornado in a chamber, with air lifting the different particles and separating them through a sieve system.

Over the past two years, Feral Temelli, together with her colleague Vasanthan, has been trying to adapt ACAPS for use in faba beans.

“The previous work focused on oat and barley, so there’s still work to be done for faba beans,” said Temelli, Professor of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta. “We’re looking for a better understanding of how to separate and analyze the different components of the faba bean seed.”

Pearling uncovers unique composition of faba beans

Temelli found that faba beans might need some preliminary processing before being fractionated by ACAPS. She concluded that pearling could be just the thing.

With pearling – a process where an abrasive unit scrapes the outer layers off the grain – Temelli can shave off about 6% of the seed at a time. Analysis of these pearled layers showed the faba bean protein concentration was higher on the outside of the bean, while the starch concentrated more towards the centre.

“I believe this was a new finding for faba beans, so we’ve done a lot of composition analysis with these fractions,” she noted. “We also saw a tighter interaction between the fibre and the protein in the outer layer of the faba bean. In fact, the protein seems to stay together with the fibre.”

Between now and mid-2019, Temelli and her team – including one graduate student – will keep working on ACAPS optimization. They will continue analyzing the faba bean fractions and will also examine the effectiveness of water-based processes to separate-out the protein.

With Alberta farmers growing top-quality faba beans, and new fractionation capacity getting ready to roll, keeping more of the economic value of pulse crops here at home is a step in the right direction. Temelli will continue to seek out inventive ways to process pulse crops.

“We’ll be looking into better understanding the protein-fibre interaction,” Temelli said. “We’ll see if we can separate it, or maybe leaving the protein-fibre combination together gives us another new opportunity for a different enriched fraction with unique properties.”