Unpacking the final results of CONSERVAL, discover the consortium’s achievements!

CONSERVAL is a project that operates as a fishing net: it requires several knots that, together, fulfil their function and make the mission possible. We will try to untie the work of each member of the CONSERVAL consortium, to discover what achievements they have obtained and how far the framework of the project has allowed them to go.


CETAQUA is the leader and coordinator of CONSERVAL, and since April 2019 it has successfully performed the function of captain, adhering to what was agreed in the Interreg Programme, both technically and economically. Its milestones include the application for a patent that protects a new technology to obtain Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs) from by-products from the canning and dairy industries and the industrial demonstration of the technology proposed for the patent. It is also responsible for the pilot plant in which the wastewater and by-products were treated. There, they detected at least 4 currents (2 for canning and 2 for dairy) in which the technical feasibility for obtaining VFAs has been concluded. As calm seas don’t make good sailors, they also ran into technological barriers, which enable CONSERVAL to continue working with a view to launching it on the market.


ANFACO-CECOPESCA is the benchmark private state Business Association and Technological Centre for the marine and food sector. Its mission at CONSERVAL was focused on obtaining hydrolysed proteins and omega-3 from waste by-products from the canning industry. They have successfully obtained the hydrolysed proteins at their pilot plant, reaching a 70% extraction yield and finding in them beneficial bioactivities such as antioxidant, hepatoprotective and antihypertensive capacity. They have also extracted fish oil by applying the supercritical fluid technology, concentrating the omega-3 fatty acids by 50% with respect to the original oil from the raw material.

Cetaqua pilot plant
ANFACO pilot plant

The role of the Association of Canned Fish Manufacturers of Portugal (ANICP), together with ANFACO CECOPESCA, allowed us to better understand the effluents of the seafood processing sector in the Galicia-Northern region of Portugal, quantify the residual flows from the canning plants and assess the economic impacts that the management of by-product or wastewater currents entails for companies.


Moreover, the University of Santiago de Compostela, through the Biogroup USC, framed in the Centre for Research in Environmental Technologies (CRETUS), was responsible for understanding the mechanisms by which canning wastewater is converted into products such as Volatile Fatty Acids, particularly taking into account the salinity that is present in this type of effluent. In this line, they managed to quantify the consequences of the osmoregulation mechanisms used by microorganisms to adapt to salinity and how they affect VFA production. They also used a fermentation reactor to experiment with the behavioural changes of microorganisms in response to changes in the salinity of the environment, and they particularly identified the transition between low and medium salinities and how this leads to a change in the microbial population. Moreover, they discovered under what conditions a microbial population may prefer to be “inefficient” in using the substrate available, leading to the production of compounds of interest such as lactic acid. These advances allowed them to prepare a predictive tool that simulates the conversion of saline organic effluents into VFAs, making it possible to design fermentation processes that target a specific VFA and achieving a fermentation of tuna cooking wastewater to VFAs with a high yield (60-70%).

Another research group from the USC also collaborated in the project, again framed in CRETUS: the Social Behaviour and Applied Psychometry group (COSOYPA). The group’s contribution can be characterised by the two methodological approaches used to find out the perception of the potential consumers of the technology and the products identified. Firstly, with a more qualitative nature, focus groups were held with profiles linked to the field of CONSERVAL (industrial and consumer) and a good general knowledge of the circular economy and a concern for environmental problems were found, although there were also certain barriers regarding the technology to be implemented and possible financial cost. All groups agreed that there was a good acceptance expected by consumers and, although to a lesser extent, reference was made to the added value of the products and the financial and ecological advantages. Profitability (cost-profit ratio) was mentioned as a marketing strategy, followed by the promotion of products based on their guarantees and sustainable origin. Likewise, the groups mentioned the need for technical information and the convenience of turning to authorities trusted by the population that endorse these products derived from the canning industry.

After this analysis, a large-scale quantitative study was carried out using a questionnaire answered by 1,226 participants from the Portuguese, Galician and Spanish populations. The results were a high level of identification with environmental issues, a good general attitude towards the products evaluated, with special trust in the science. It is precisely the good feelings of calm, and even pride and satisfaction, that largely contribute to explaining the purchase intention. Through algorithms implemented in R and Mplus, the relative weight of the variables in a purchase intention model has been studied in the different regions, which is situated at the top of the scale for over half of the respondents.

Miguel Mauricio, from the USC Biogroup, presenting the results at the Final Conference
Elena Andrade, from the COSOYPA USC group, presenting the results at the FInal Conference

Demonstrating international cooperation in the POCTEP space that CONSERVAL represents, the Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (FEUP) worked both on the production of Volatile Fatty Acids from wastewater from the canning industry and on obtaining oils and proteins from by-products and wastewater.

With regard to the former, they focused on the refining process, as they have a lower market value in mixtures than they do in their pure form. To do this, they worked on concentrating VFAs through a permeation process, with a reverse osmosis membrane. Thus, the membrane was characterised in terms of permeability and retention, and the effects of the feed concentration, the pH of the solution and the pressure applied were also studied to determine the optimal operating conditions. It was concluded that the best operating conditions would be for the feed solution to have a high pH (above the pKa of VFAs) and for high pressure to be applied to the filtration system in order to achieve a high retention of acids and high permeate flows. They also worked on the separation or purification of these already concentrated acids. Absorption was the chosen method, with the adsorbent Amberlite XAD-4, as it presented different affinities for each of the acids. The equilibrium and adsorption kinetics for this adsorbent were obtained, together with the adjustment of mathematical models that correctly represented the experimental results, allowing the prediction. These results were used in the design of a continuous process consisting of a simulated moving bed (SMB) unit.

In terms of hydrolysed proteins and omega-3 oils, the molecular weight of the samples from various origins sent to the FEUP by ANFACO was divided, resulting in a report with a description of the results that aid ANFACO’s conclusions.


In the framework of action 4.2 “Assessment of the Exploitation of Results and Technologies”, the Galician University-Business Foundation (FEUGA [Fundación Empresa-Universidad Gallega]) correctly analysed and assessed the potential of the technologies developed within the CONSERVAL Project, with a complete view of the ecosystem of the recovery sector of by-products from the canning industry and an extensive identification of the key players, their geographical location and various modes of operation. Likewise, actions to promote technologies with commercial or collaborative potential were carried out in the form of meetings with sectors of interest or through the participation of the project in various events, maximising the scope and impact of the results obtained.

FEUGA was also responsible for transferring and communicating the project. This was because one of its missions was to promote awareness in the canning sector of the importance of applying innovative technologies to improve competitiveness, make society aware of the concept of the circular economy and promote networking between the beneficiaries and end users of the project. Thanks to the work of its team, over 25 media outlets contributed to disseminating the project and its results with 40 publications, over 2,745 views across 42 videos were achieved, it participated in 7 external events that gave visibility and dissemination to the project, there was traffic of 35,000 visits and 100,000 clicks on the website and there was an active community of over 530 followers on social networks. Because the idea was not just to sail alone, but rather serve as a wake that guides other boats.

If you were left wanting more, in the following list of videos you can see who the protagonists of the CONSERVAL project are and how they do their work:

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