Empire Medicinals, doing business as Leep Foods, is a Rochester-based business that produces mushrooms using a range of agricultural byproducts produced by businesses in the Western/ Upstate NY region.
George Zheng and Chris Carter, the co-founders of Leep Foods, along with Sarad Parekh, Ph.D., and two researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology — Thomas Trabold, Ph.D. program director department head at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and Jeff Lodge, an associate professor in the biology department — wanted to address a major problem in the food industry, the disposal of acid whey, a byproduct of Greek yogurt manufacturing. They needed funding to determine if, at a bench top level, mycelium could grow on acid whey, creating a new commercial pathway for turning an agricultural byproduct into a high value food.
RIT applied to FuzeHub for a 2018 Manufacturing Grant and received $49,460. It used the money to support a team of researchers that included RIT graduate students and a scientist from Leep. Using equipment already in place at RIT, they executed a year-long bench-scale proof-of-concept demonstration project, which succeeded in producing mycelium on acid whey.
“The FuzeHub-funded project directly informed a follow-on research project funded by the National Science Foundation through a $141,000 grant to Professor James Hewlett at Finger Lakes Community College. This research, which is currently ongoing, is focused on the “”downstream processing”” of the completed fermentation broth volume to isolate and recover high molecular weight beta-glucan polysaccharides. It will define the manufacturing process steps required to effectively recover the valuable fungal sugars from a fermentation broth. Leep also is poised to begin a pre-pilot manufacturing demonstration project to develop product samples in sufficient quantities to enable widespread customer testing.
For RIT, the project also added to a portfolio of technical solutions for food waste”