The BBI JU GreenProtein project is transforming by-products from green vegetables and field crops into high-grade protein for the food industry. The finished product is a viable alternative to egg whites and whey protein - and has huge commercial potential.
The BBI JU-funded GreenProtein project centres around the extraction and purification of RuBisCO, which is the most abundant protein in the world. The project has developed a unique process that takes green by-products from vegetables and field-crop residues and turns them into dry leaf protein isolate powder with a RuBisCo content of at least 85 %.
The end product can be used as an ingredient by food companies for gelling, foaming and emulsifying. What is more, since this product is meat-free it can be used to make innovative foodstuffs for people on restrictive diets or those who want to avoid eating animal products. In addition, because the project is valorising by-products from vegetables and field crops it has a positive impact on the sustainability of the agricultural cycle.
‘We want to develop a high-level food ingredient process which can be exploited in multiple locations and industrial sites across Europe – adding jobs and economic growth to EU regions,’ says GreenProtein project manager Paulus Kosters of Dutch company Royal Cosun. ‘The plant-based proteins we develop will extend the possibilities for the food industry to create more pleasant tasting, high-quality vegetarian and vegan food products that will have a low environmental footprint.’
Scaling up the process
Since GreenProtein began, it has managed to extract good-quality proteins in the laboratory. Researchers are also examining how seasonal variations in their raw materials impact their ability to process the protein.
The project’s multidisciplinary team – which includes food experts, process engineers and machine specialists – is now constructing a demonstration plant to extract and purify the RuBisCO protein.
The plant will allow the team to fine-tune the extraction process and help them define optimal conditions for manufacture. Long-term, the objective is to create a production line that is easy to replicate.
The partnership created by GreenProtein covers both the production chain and the commercialisation process – from growing the crop through to selling the ingredient on the market.
In terms of production, the goal is to create 28 kilograms of dry leaf protein isolate powder per tonne of vegetable residue at a competitive and constant price. The demand is certainly there to be met as the EU imports about 77 % of its protein requirements for food and feed, a situation that has implications for both food security and self-sufficiency.
‘We have made significant progress in meeting the key challenge – addressing the need to produce more plant-based protein in the EU,’ says Kosters. ‘The project brings together research institutes and companies – both large and small – which are working well to achieve our long-term goals.’
GreenProtein is funded through the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium.
- Project acronym: GreenProtein
- Participants: Netherlands (Coordinator), France, Spain, Serbia
- Project N°: 720728
- Total costs: € 5 546 519
- EU contribution: € 4 227 361
- Duration: September 2016 to February 2021
Source: European Commission, Research and Innovation Information Centre