Castro and Brasil developed biofilm made of açaí (Thiago Gomes)

As versatile as açaí

That açaí is tasty and can even replace a meal, everyone from Pará knows. But researchers from local universities are developing açaí-derived products that go far beyond cuisine. Uses range from an injury-treatment gel to a fully biodegradable biofilm and even cement.

Eduardo Laviano

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (UFPA/ET-Multi)


The state of Pará, responsible for 94% of all açaí harvested in Brazil in 2022, produced more than 1.3 million tons of the fruit last year. 

The potential of açaí, however, goes beyond that of a food. The more researchers delve into its properties and composition, the more they discover new and sustainable features. 

Researcher Raphaela Castro, from the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), has developed a biofilm from açaí that can replace plastics in several functions. 

The benefits are many: in addition to taking advantage of an abundant element in the region, the açaí biofilm is biodegradable, that is, it will not remain on the planet for centuries after use, causing pollution. The degradation time of the product elaborated by Raphaela is 180 days.

"We will still do a lot of analysis for the application of the product, how it can be used in everyday life or in the cosmetics industry. We also need to go deeper into studies of durability. But the initial results are promising. If we need a small amount of biofilm, we were able to produce it in up to 24 hours. The process is relatively quick. Many things are discarded without knowing their real potential. We hope to revert this", says Raphaela, who is studying chemical engineering and is a scientific initiation scholarship holder.

Castro also points out that the biofilms found in nature are bacterial. They attach to some surface and create a kind of film, keeping a connection through an extracellular polymeric substance to evolve.

They form a layer in a process similar to what fungi do with food. 

As for the açaí biofilm, produced in the laboratory, the differences consist in the composition of elements, in the temperature and in the adequate time for the formation and use of polyol to acquire the bioplastic structure. 

Polyol is type of alcohol used to manufacture polyurethane, employed in the production of flexible foams, such as mattresses, for example.

Davi do Socorro is a professor at the Chemical Engineering faculty of at the Federal University of Pará and was a supervisor of the project that developed the product. 

He says that the procedures started with the acquisition of açaí pulp in Belém. The product, then, underwent a drying phase in an oven so that the açaí oil could be extracted using a hydraulic press.

Vacuum filtration was also necessary to eliminate some impurities. 

“Many things are discarded without the awareness of their real potential. We hope to reverse this
“Many things are discarded without the awareness of their real potential. We hope to reverse this", says Raphaela Castro (Thiago Gomes/O Liberal)

For now, every detail about the production of the açaí biofilm goes through the patent registration process at National Institute of Industrial Property, which can take up to two years to complete.

"The aspect of the biofilm is promising because it can be used in different ways, from packaging to the cosmetics industry. Just like açaí, the biofilm is versatile. It results from years of work. It's an achievement that may produce many consequences for the Amazon, because it adds value to our biodiversity, expands the possibilities of bioeconomy", says Davi, who is coordinator of the Laboratory of Biosolutions and Bioplastics of the Amazon, and who has also studied the use of other Amazonian inputs, such as andiroba and Brazil nuts.

Açai can be turned into cement

The term "ecological cement" has gained more and more strength around the world, in the wake of concern about the high levels of pollution caused by civil construction. 

In Brazil, the cement industry was responsible for 29.7% of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes in 2012. 

Globally, 7% of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere has the signature of the cement industry, according to data from the Global Concrete and Cement Association.

This is because cement, which works as a glue for the granules and sand that make up concrete, is mainly composed by clinker, a product obtained by calcining limestone and clay in an oven at 1,400 degrees Celsius. 

When burned, limestone releases carbon dioxide. And every ton of cement releases nearly a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Numbers have been decreasing year after year, largely due to the use of biomass, a fact that has inspired professor Paulo Sérgio Lima Souza for 20 years. 

He is a professor at the Federal University of Pará and has a doctorate focused on research on additions of sustainable elements to cement. 

The idea of ​​using açaí for cement production came after he saw researchers in Rio Grande do Sul trying to make cement with rice husks. 

They are similar processes: calcination is performed to remove the organic material and the ash is removed to replace the clinker.

"It's a technique that needs to be carried out with certain criteria, such as a controlled temperature, for example, 500 degrees Celsius. It's not something simple. But it's a very good material when it goes through this well-controlled and rigid processing. You can observe that there is quality when compared with the commercial elements already used", points out Lima.

20230327LIBAMAZONAÇAÍ - Professor Paulo Sérgio -  Foto Thiago Gomes (73).JPG
“The açaí seed transformed into silica can be used in concrete making. If it's an economically viable alternative or not, only time will tell", states Paulo Sérgio Lima Souza

The professor points out that the main challenge of the project is to guarantee a high-quality burning, since the açaí seed needs to be burnt for a long time, due to its high heat retention power.

"We used to have useful ovens at the Civil Engineering Laboratory, but at first we faced problems with the quality of the burning. Later, we got the information that in the city of Castanhal there were already açaí seeds being burnt. There was no strict control either, but the process was extremely clean and free of contaminants. We got these ashes and went on grounding in order to make them more adequate. It is this silica that gives more resistance and durability to concrete", he says.

Currently, Paulo seeks to recreate the research group focused on açaí, which was paused during the covid-19 pandemic. His aim is to start studies and tests from scratch. 

The expectation, according to him, is that the research developed at the institution can lead to a less polluting production by industries.

"Technically speaking, we think it's possible, as we managed to transform the açaí seed into silica to be used in concrete. If it's an economically viable alternative or not, only time will tell, because we don't have enough açai seeds for large-scale production yet. At the University, we don't make industries, but we point out technical guidelines for the private initiative to turn the ideas functional and robust", he says.

Açai properties can treat injuries

Since she arrived at the physiotherapy college, researcher Áurea Gabriela has been interested in the use of açaí for the treatment of injuries. 

Initially, she treated intratendinous injections, precisely in the heel. 

At this time, the literature already demonstrated the positive effects of açaí on injuries, but the injections made Áurea curious: what if it were possible to have a less invasive treatment with açaí?

"It was by searching for a more clinical application that we developed the gel. Topical use was very positive and we noticed reduction in the number of inflammatory cells, improvement in the organizational pattern of the tissue and evolution in the orientation of collagen. 

In addition to these aspects, we observed improvement in body movement functions, such as walking. It is really positive that it can be used in musculoskeletal injuries in the future", says the researcher.

So far, the tests are only carried out with laboratory mice. Áurea says it is a meticulous process, which has to be approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of Pará, as animals are being used in the experiences. 

Another alternative is the purchase of açaí extract for the formulation of the gel with a specific concentration of 10%, obtained from chemical and dilution calculations. 

"We place the mouse on a board and film the animal to see the walking pattern during the most acute period of the injury, between 7 and 14 days", says Áurea, who is already planning a doctorate course in which she intends to go deeper in the biochemical study on the gel.

20230327LIBAMAZONAÇAÍ - Aurea Gabriela Mendes (branco) e a Prof Suellen Moraes -(roxo) FOTO THIAGO GOMES (17).JPG
“It is really positive that it can be used in musculoskeletal injuries in the future", points out Áurea Gabriela

Advisor Suellen Moraes, who works as a professor in the physiotherapy program at the Federal University of Pará, affirms that studies evidencing açaí as a powerful anti-inflammatory are gaining increased relevance.

"Inside the composition of the fruit, there are some molecules with already well-known, very anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, such as quercetin. In addition to other flavonoids that act in the body protecting and contributing to biological processes. The aim is to use it for repairing process of tendinous injuries, in the regions of insertion of some muscles, which are called tendinitis, especially those caused by repetitive movement, sports, tendon ruptures. Both in sports practice and in repetitive work, the structures suffer a degeneration process. So, what we seek is to develop therapeutic solutions", says Moraes.

According to Suellen, a member of the institution’s Laboratory of Experimental Neuropharmacology, the expectation is to apply the gel in humans in the future, and this will demand more investments.

According to her, there is no lack of knowledge nor dedicated people in the region to develop bioproducts with açaí and other raw materials. 

"We need resources and technology, sectors where the Amazon suffers from a significant deficit in relation to the rest of the country. We have human resources, very qualified researchers. But we need more public calls and funding grants for science. Our studies are local but they can impact world problems", she argues.

Áurea agrees that doing research in the Amazon is not easy. But she remains inspired and feels proud to use such an identity element of Amazonian culture in a research that can improve people's lives.

"Everything is expensive and onerous, from solutions and reagents to biochemical dosage kits. But what moves me is the expectation of taking these results outside the university. We want our work to go beyond publication in scientific journals, we want society to be able to benefit from our research".


In the excerpt from the song by João Gomes and Nilson Chaves, the authors talk to the açaí about its saga.  The fruit rolls in bowls and is sacrificed by the crushing. It is taken as holy fruit as it is the main food of those who have very little. Some call it açaizeiro and others call it juçara

"And your fruit rolls
to our bowls
You give yourself to sacrifice
Holy fruit, martyr fruit
You are the gift of being much
where many have nothing
Some call you açaizeiro
Others call you juçara"