Of the nearly 80 billion pounds of whey that is produced in the US as a byproduct in the manufacture of cheese, about half is currently unutilized. One of the goals would be to use whey as a raw material either as filler in the form whey permeate to reduce the cost, or as additives in the form of protein extract to improve performance. Some of the immediate applications of materials from both whey and wood pulp are coatings in paper industry and as a biodegradable road deicer as a replacement for rock salt.
Work at UVM has already demonstrated that protein concentrate derived from whey can be used in conjunction with other petroleum derived products (acrylics) to produce environmentally safe high performance wood finish. Presence of disulfide crosslinks in whey protein enables this to be used as additives to enhance the performance of other polymers. The general idea is to use whey protein as an emulsifying agent in such application as encapsulation. We will also explore application of whey protein as an oxygen barrier in films used for packaging. We will also purse the microbial conversion of lactose in whey into polylactides and polyhydroxyalkanoates. Conversion of whey into PLA is an active area of research at UVM.
Microencapsulation of the primary Bt toxin in killed bacterial cells has been successfully achieved, and these encapsulated formulations are used commercially. But, the process is relatively expensive. Films can be readily produced today from whey, starches, and lignin. Granules can incorporate nutrients to support the growth and sporulation of the fungus in the pest's habitat, and baits to attract target pests. Previous developments have focused on the use of corn starch and alginate in the formulation of fungal granules. Using technologies similar to those used to produce whey films, larger particles can be produced, offering the potential to encapsulate fungi into a whey-based granule.