Could nuts, algae or insects be the solution to the long-term protein shortage?

[Switzerland] Bühler and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich (ETH Zürich) have entered into a close cooperation to help “close the protein gap”.

Their partnership will “create the basis for the industrial utilisation of alternative sources of protein such as pulses, algae and insects to ensure a sustainable supply of food and feed for humans and animals and to make them attractive for consumers,” according to Bühler’s chief technology officer, Ian Roberts.

“Intensive farming, mass animal breeding and fishing do not cover our protein needs in a sustainable and environmentally compatible way,” Roberts said.

And Prof Alexander Mathys, the new chair of the Sustainable Food Processing Group at ETH Zürich’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, said that the world needs “new, innovative approaches to protein production and processing” in order to reduce consumers’ dependency on protein from sources such as meat and fish. “Otherwise,” Prof Mathys said, “our agricultural systems face the threat of collapse.”

Studies have shown that, by 2050, an additional 265 million tonnes of protein will be required annually to feed the growing population – with no viable long-term alternative to increasing utilisation of plant proteins – while two-thirds of all vegetable proteins currently produced end up as feed for livestock such as cattle, pigs, poultry, or fish.

High hopes are currently being pinned on pulses such as peas, lentils, or beans. These gluten-free sources of protein are currently experiencing a revival, especially in Europe and North America, although they have always been part of the staple diet in Asian and African cuisines. Bühler offers systems that not only hull, split and sort pulses but also process them in their pure form or blended with other raw materials to make pasta, baked products, snacks or meat substitutes. Such novel products make pulses more attractive for a wider circle of consumers because they do not have to change their dietary habits, the company contended.

Insects such as mealworms; larvae, such as that from the black soldier fly; and algae are also being touted as long-term solutions to the shortage of animal proteins.

Prof Mathys continued: “The benefits of algae and insects are obvious. In designing integrated biorefineries for their cultivation and processing, it is important that we collaborate at an early stage with technology companies such as Bühler.”

And a Bühler spokesperson added: “A lot of questions regarding industrial-scale cultivation, extraction and processing of algae or insect proteins still remain to be answered. Bühler possesses vast process engineering expertise, which could be put to use in such future processing and production systems. For instance, the group has already demonstrated that the most cost-efficient mechanical method for rupturing algae cells today is by agitator bead mills. This wet grinding technology is also used for manufacturing printing inks or paints. It allows particularly gentle rupturing of the tough cell walls of algae for extracting and separating all the valuable constituents.”

 

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