Concentrated Expertise for Sustainable Products and Processes
Interview with Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV
What does the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV do?
Andrea Büttner: We play a leading role in applied research for the secure supply of high-quality food and for sustainable packaging systems. Climate change and increasingly scarce resources and cultivation areas, along with a growing world population, are major challenges that demand new, sustainable value creation. This is what our approximately 300 researchers are working on. They develop pioneering products, processes and technologies in the fields of food, packaging, product effects and processing machinery, as well as recycling and the environment. Shaping the future together and driving the transformation towards a resilient and sustainable food and packaging industry – that is what inspires us in our day-to-day research work. We also find it motivating when we can apply our know-how in other industries as well.
Like the cosmetics industry?
Andrea Büttner: Yes, because consumer demand for safe and sustainable products is growing rapidly here. One of the reasons for this is that sustainability is often associated with high value. This in turn gives consumers a feeling of well-being and has a positive effect on their health. These two points, along with bio-economy, circular economy, resilience and security, are some of our strategic subject areas. Here, we strategically apply our expertise and experience from more than 50 years of packaging and food science to develop bio-based and recyclable products, as well as resource-conserving processes – for the cosmetics industry as well.
... what does that means in concrete terms?
Andrea Büttner: The cosmetics industry is relying more and more on natural materials and recycled packaging. However, sustainability is more than that. It plays an important role not only in perception, but also in technological processes such as cleaning and hygiene. Our team, which is made up of different disciplines, has the right knowledge and experts with complementary expertise to organize sustainable product development along the entire process chain: from raw materials to the mechanical processes to the packaged product.
What does the aspect of well-being mean in the context of sustainability and why is it so important for consumers today?
Jessica Freiherr: We are constantly reminded by e.g. natural disasters, that every one of us has do something for the preservation our environment. When it comes to buying sustainably produced products, consumers hope for a certain connection to nature and to avoid ingredients and processing methods that are synthetic and potentially harmful to the environment and their health. Using sustainable products makes people feel good about themselves and also potentially willing to accept a higher price. One challenge for companies is to find out which raw materials, products or processes are particularly sustainable or are perceived to be sustainable by consumers and therefore of high quality. Based on this knowledge, companies can change their production.
What can companies do to produce more sustainable cosmetic products?
André Boye: The aspect of sustainability is very complex and covers many areas that are often not apparent at first glance. Even cleaning the production facilities is a resource-intensive process step with regard to water and energy consumption, since the existing systems are rigid and the processes are designed for the worse case. One solution is to use adaptive cleaning systems, which adapt to the cleaning task, that is, the geometry of the equipment and the degree of contamination – reducing cleaning times by half is realistic. The use of our contamination sensor technology for tanks for example, tells me when my tank is clean and the cleaning process can be stopped. Process optimizations in the area of cleaning not only help the environment, but also deliver significant savings for manufacturers – a win-win situation.
In recent years, we have seen that many manufacturers are increasingly focusing on natural cosmetics. What challenges do companies that want to produce sustainable cosmetics face?
Arielle Springer: The term “natural cosmetics” is not uniformly defined. Depending on the certified natural cosmetics label under which the product is to be marketed, many ingredients that improve shelf life in conventional cosmetics may not be permitted. At the same time, sustainable packaging is required, but often does not offer the same level of product protection yet. Water and CO2 need to be reduced in the production of raw materials and products, as well as in shipping. Technical additives for cleaning and sterilizing equipment are limited. All these factors can have a negative impact on product quality.
What solutions are there to guarantee product quality in spite of this?
Arielle Springer: The interaction of bulk, process control, packaging and storage is important. At Fraunhofer IVV, we deal with a wide range of research topics: from the optimization of plastics and the use of new cosmetic ingredients to the investigation of product quality and shelf life and much more.
Cornelia Stramm: To find the optimum packaging concept for a product, we develop tailormade packaging that can be based on biopolymers, among other things. We take shipping and storage conditions into account, as well as special requirements of the packaging material, such as recyclability in accordance with Germany’s new Packaging Law. With regard to improving packaging quality, the characterization and evaluation of packaging materials play a decisive role, as do material tests, migration tests and sensory tests, for example.
Arielle Springer: These tests allow us to check product safety and find out what quantity of undesirable substances is transferred from the packaging to the product and their amount that can be absorbed dermally in the worst-case scenario. In this way, packaging materials can be optimized in terms of post-consumer recyclate content.
Marek Hauptmann: In addition, packaging materials are investigated in various packaging processes, as well as in machine environment, to ensure that the packaging can be manufactured at all and to characterize the properties in the production environment such as reliability, availability and output, as well as to embed safe processes in quality management. This overall performance from different competencies at our institute is unique. We live this transdisciplinary approach every day and combine all the required solution competencies under one roof.
And what about the product content itself: How can it be optimized?
Arielle Springer: To protect a cream and extend its shelf life, for example, we can utilize the antioxidant effect of plant-based raw materials. If the packaging is permeable to oxygen, then fatty acids and other sensitive ingredients can oxidize, which causes them to lose their efficacy or develop a rancid odor. If the products are stored in light and heat, these reactions happen even faster. We use specially designed measuring cells with oxygen sensors to investigate the oxidation stability of cosmetic products. In this process, we have gained many interesting insights into how different types of emulsions, oils, preservatives and plant extracts affect shelf life and the formation of rancid oxidation products. The targeted use of antioxidants from plant residues can compensate for more permeable packaging and maintain product quality.
Sandra Kiese: In addition, the use of residual materials from food production and the agricultural industry presents a great opportunity on our way to more sustainability. Residual materials often contain high concentrations of valuable ingredients, such as secondary plant substances. To obtain these substances from the auxiliary flows of processing and production, we are developing efficient, sustainable extraction methods. First of all, this enables us to reduce the waste of valuable residual material flows and thus contribute to environmental protection and resource efficiency. Secondly, it succeeds in developing new and simultaneously sustainable ingredients for cosmetic applications through recyclability and processing. The advantages lie in the multifunctional effects, such as anti-oxidative, anti-microbial or anti-aging.
So the ingredients can also be marketed on the packaging. Does that increase consumer acceptance?
Jessica Freiherr: Especially with new product concepts, consumer acceptance is crucial. The focus is on the consumer at every point in the development of a new cosmetic product or ingredient. We support the complete product development line with insights into sensory perception, as well as product acceptance.
Does that mean even the idea of a new development, such as using by-products from coffee production for cosmetics, is tested for consumer acceptance?
Jessica Freiherr: Yes, exactly. As soon as new product concepts are developed, the sensory perception of the individual variants is reviewed and the product is sensorially optimized in a step by step manner. To objectively examine the perception of the product, we have numerous analytical methods at our disposal. For example, off-flavors are identified and measures are implemented to avoid them. At the end of the product development cycle, the acceptance of the finished product can then be tested in consumer trials, with regard to the packaging and any labels. This approach enables us to support companies in converting sustainable product concepts to market-ready products.
Dipl.-Leb.Chem. Arielle Springer
is business development manager in the field of packaging at the Fraunhofer IVV. She studied food chemistry at the TU Dresden and gained professional experience as a product developer for a cosmetics manufacturer. Together with experienced experts, she works on an interdisciplinary basis to continuously improve the research field of Personal & Home Care.
Prof. Dr. Andrea Büttner
Executive Director of Institute
Head of Department for Cyber-Physical Processing and Cleaning Systems
Prof. Dr. Jessica Freiherr
Dr. Cornelia Stramm
Head of Department Materials Development
Group leader Process Development for Plant Raw Materials
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Marek Hauptmann
Head of Department Packaging and Processing Technologies
Fraunhofer-Institut für Verfahrenstechnik und Verpackung
Giggenhauser Str. 35
phone: +49 8161 491 470
mobile: +49 1716 411 383