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Sustainable production chains for cellular proteins

A public-private consortium of industrial and knowledge partners has received Dutch TKI grants for a multi-year, multi-phase project on using microbial biomass to create functional, protein-rich ingredients for sustainable production of food. The Protein Transition in Food professorship is working on this project on behalf of HAS green academy.

Cellular proteins

In the project, the partners will optimise processing conditions for different organisms, including microalgae, bacteria, fungi and yeast, in order to assess which deliver the functional, economic and sustainability characteristics needed for a marketable food product.

Turning sidestreams into edible biomass

It has long been known that ‘alternative’ proteins’ have the potential to expand local protein production. These alternatives, however, must balance the needs of all stakeholders. The consumer, for example, wants a food product that looks good, tastes good, feels good in the mouth, and delivers certain nutritional benefits.

Manufacturers want to be able to use familiar processes that don’t require new equipment or additional steps. From a societal point of view, it is key to minimise the ecological impact of producing protein while maintaining profitability.

Cellular agriculture is one potential source of new proteins, using microbial cells as factories to produce edible microbial biomasses. Microbial biomass is the result of the fermentation, by bacteria, fungi, yeast or algae, of organic substrates such as by-products from the sugar industry and other food processing residues.

Edible microbial biomass can thus offer a sustainable and economic protein source. However, the high costs for development and production make it difficult for ingredient manufacturers to be sure they are on the right track.

Assessing applicability, sustainability and feasibility

A public-private consortium is collaborating on a multi-year project that will deliver insight into the applicability, sustainability and feasibility of using microbial biomass as functional, protein-rich food ingredients.

This consortium, which has been subsidised by the Dutch government (under the Top Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) programme) and within the initiation facilitated by the Sustainable Food Initiative foundation (SFI), includes industrial partners Revyve, Phycom, Unilever, Westland Kaas, PeelPioneers and AB Mauri, and knowledge partners NIZO food research, Wageningen University, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, and HAS green academy.

The kick-off for the multi-year project took place in September 2022; the project is expected to run through end-2026. Four experimental work packages will address the challenges of producing cellular proteins: including efficient culturing of organisms, growing industrial sidestreams, ensuring feasible biomass yields with a high protein/low nucleic acid composition, and developing scalable processes. Food application trials will also be performed on a selected set of proteins, with a focus on dairy, meat and bakery analogues.

Financial contribution

This project receives financial contribution from the Topsector Agri & Food. Within the Topsector industry, knowledge institutions and government collaborate on innovations for safe and healthy food for 9 billion people in a resilient world.

More information Protein transition in Food research group

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