The benefits of UK grown rosemary are set to be explored, and with it the potential to create a new genre of renewable bio-based antioxidants.
Polymer scientists at Aston University in Birmingham have been awarded a £235,000 grant to develop a range of antioxidants from the active natural ingredients present in rosemary.
Synthetic antioxidants, added to provide stability to products in areas as diverse as cosmetics, food and drink packaging and car lubricants, help to prevent or reduce the formation of active chemical species (free-radicals) that are responsible for the deterioration and breakdown of organic materials. The damaging effects of free radicals are also often linked to cancer and other degenerative conditions in the human body.
The aim of the research is to replace some of these synthetic antioxidants with rosemary-derived antioxidants to add a natural and renewable source to products. This will also help address potential issues relating to safety and toxicity in human-contact applications.
Dr Sahar Al-Malaika, Reader in Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at Aston, who is a pioneer on the use of vitamin E as an antioxidant in polymers, believes that this latest research could prove as significant. She and her team are studying UK grown rosemary in particular, as evidence suggests the plant yields higher levels of antioxidants than those grown on the continent.
“Rosemary has long been recognised for its health and medicinal benefits, but only when used at everyday temperatures,” said Dr Al-Malaika. “To add natural rosemary antioxidants into everyday products, it has to be mixed and heated with other ingredients to give the desired manufactured consumer product. The challenge here is to produce rosemary-based antioxidants that remain active at the high temperatures needed for commercial manufacturing and other applications, which has never been achieved before.
“If we can succeed, it could remove our total reliance on synthetic antioxidants and create a new generation of renewable antioxidants made from a UK grown source. This would help address issues relating to safety and toxicity in human-contact applications as well as adding stability to a diverse range of everyday products including cosmetics, plastic for food packaging, bio-diesel and lubricants for automotives.”
The initial two-and-a-half year project will look at the extraction and purification of antioxidants from rosemary, particularly Rosmarinic and Carnosic acids. It will assess whether they can be modified to enable their use in different organic media.
If this proves successful the research team will be working with leading businesses to develop the process further. This will include assessing its financial viability and the potential of a totally green supply of products throughout the whole manufacturing process.
For further information or to arrange an interview with Dr Sahar Al-Malaika contact Alex Earnshaw, Press Officer, Aston University, on 0121 204 4549.