Investigations into the Pilot Scale Separation of Protein and Starch Biopolymers from Oat Cereal
Thesis DisciplineChemical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Cereals contain naturally occurring biopolymers (for example proteins and starches) that can be used as renewable raw materials in a variety of speciality chemical applications. The separation of protein and starch biopolymers from wheat is well established and relies on a group of proteins called glutens that have a unique network-forming functionality. Oat and other cereals do not naturally contain these gluten proteins and typically rely on chemical-based separation techniques which alter the chemical and physical structures and damage the inherent natural functionality of the biopolymers.
This research study investigated the separation of the protein and starch fractions from cereals using the Al-Hakkak Process, a new aqueous process. This process involves adding water and wheat gluten protein to cereals that do not contain gluten. The wheat gluten interacts with the cereal proteins, facilitating the separation of the starch and protein fractions whilst retaining their inherent natural functionality.
The aim of this research project was to investigate and optimise the pilot scale separation performance of the Al-Hakkak Process using oat flour. As very little prior research had been carried out, the focus was to characterise the oat starch and protein separation performance and gain an understanding of the mechanisms involved. A variety of techniques were employed. Large scale deformation rheology was used to gain an understanding of the oat-gluten dough rheology and establish the relationship between the rheology and the separation performance. Confocal scanning laser microscopy was used to investigate the structure of the oat-gluten protein network. The molecular interactions between the oat and gluten proteins were studied using gel electrophoresis. The network-forming functionality of the new oat-gluten protein was explored. The influence of various processing parameters on the pilot scale separation performance was investigated and the results compared with other data collected through the study to identify key processing parameters. This research programme has resulted in interesting, encouraging and some unexpected outcomes and these are discussed in detail in the thesis.
It was concluded that an insoluble protein network formed in the oat-gluten dough and both kneading and extraction processes were found to contribute to the formation of this. A key conclusion was that the changes that took place in the oat-gluten dough were similar to, but not identical to, the changes that occur in wheat dough. It was proposed that the mechanism for the development of a protein network in oat-gluten dough differed from wheat dough for two main reasons: a) the presence of the oat flour disrupted the normal wheat gluten behaviour, and b) components in the oat flour altered the activity of the gluten proteins. The research identified key processing parameters for the Al-Hakkak Process including kneading time, gluten content, and sodium chloride content of the oat-gluten dough as well as sodium chloride concentration, pH, and temperature of the extract liquor.
An important discovery was that the oat and gluten proteins interacted at a molecular level through reducible, covalent, bonding (most likely disulphide linkages) to form the insoluble protein network in the oat-gluten dough. It was concluded that these reducible bonds coupled the individual protein subunits to form new hybrid oat-gluten protein molecules (a combination of oat proteins and gluten proteins). Both insoluble and soluble proteins in the oat and gluten flour were involved in the formation of the insoluble protein network in the oat-gluten dough. This outcome has applications beyond the Al-Hakkak Process, as this new knowledge can be applied to the wider dough processing industry.
It was concluded that the wheat gluten was the source of the protein network-forming functionality of the hybrid oat-gluten protein and that the oat proteins had a diluting effect. It was proposed that oat-gluten protein flour from the Al-Hakkak Process could be reused to replace the commercial wheat gluten flour in subsequent production batches.
During spray drying of the starch stream, the soluble biopolymers in the extract liquor were found to act as an adhesive and glued individual starch granules together to form spherical agglomerates. Acidification of the extract liquor was found to enhance this agglomeration. It was proposed the acidified starch granules were sticker during spray drying due to the partial acid hydrolysis of the starch granule suface which enhanced the agglomeration.