Plant-based boom: 3F Bio lands €17m European Commission backing for biorefinery
The zero-waste first-of-its-kind biorefinery comes amid a continued demand for protein
18 Jul 2019 --- Biotechnology company 3F Bio is launching a project dubbed “Plenitude” along with nine other partners to build a large-scale, integrated biorefinery facility. The European Commission and Bio-based Industries Consortium partnership, Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), awarded the project €17 million under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. The facility will produce bioethanol and proteins for food from low-cost and sustainable feedstocks. Set to open in 2021 in Ghent, Belgium, it will have an initial annual output capacity of 16,000 metric tons (MT) and will increase the availability of sustainable, high-quality food protein.
“The key challenges will be around integrating a food production facility with a biorefinery, as it is the first of its kind. The reason for the integration in the first place is that the biorefinery will provide economic benefits. Additionally, I’m not anxious about any technological risk as we have had the non-integrated elements programmed for decades,” Jim Laird, 3F Bio CEO tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The production process involves using a proportion of the sustainable cereal crops that feed the biorefinery to create a feedstock for the fermentation process that produces 3F Bio’s Abunda mycoprotein.
While the company looked into the process with a range of grains, it will ultimately use corn at the new facility as it is their lead industrial partner Alcogroup SA’s prime source. “Biofuels use the sugars within the grain, so we extract glucose to feed the fermentation process. We believe that this is the most sustainable source of fermentable sugar that we can identify,” Laid explains.
As mycoprotein has been under monopoly control by Quorn for decades, 3F Bio’s primary focus is as a B2B ingredients supplier. “We can see a wide range of applications, including the meat-alternative market, which has a strong growth of 15 percent CAGR. Equally, we want to see a reduction in the quantity of meat from livestock consumed – the easiest way is to use a meat hybrid where a percentage of meat in any product is replaced by sustainable protein,” notes Laird.
Plenitude is formed of ten key players in the bioeconomy across five EU member states in a variety of fields. The other partners are Alcogroup SA, International Flavors & Fragrances IFF BV, Wageningen University, Bridge 2 Food, Life Cycle Engineering Srl, Mosa Meat, Vivera, ABP and Lactips. This collaboration between the biorefinery operator, food producers and technology providers will create new cross-sector interconnections, new bio-based value chains, and new bio-based “consumer” products.
“The group of partners will help us gain commercial opportunities in our range of applications which include meat-free products, meat hybrids and potentially pet food. Dutch company Mosa Meat is well known for producing clean meat, so there is an interesting potential for us supporting clean meat commercialization. Additionally, the prospect of Lactips using our products for bio-plastics is exciting,” says Laird.
The desperate need for sustainable meat alternatives
With a target to produce one million MT of protein by 2030, the new facility could have a carbon emission reduction of over five million MT. This is due to the inclusion of a full assessment of the environmental, economic, health and social impacts of the developed products or processes, using LCA/LCC/S-LCA methodologies based on available standards to validate the sustainability and food safety of the products and value chain.
Additionally, the new facility comes at a time when there is an urgent need to increase local protein production, as the EU is suffering from a deficit in protein production and is dependent on imports from other countries. “The EU highlighted some of the sustainability challenges of being overly reliant on meat, but it also highlighted the food security aspect of locality, for example how we have to ship soy around the world,” Laird continues.
Five hundred million MT of “meat” protein is consumed annually around the world, with less than one percent being plant-based. Meat consumption is increasing globally, thanks to increasing affluence, according to Laird, but there are innovators such as cultured-meat companies who are showcasing an alternative. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predict that non-animal protein demand may grow to 10 to 20 percent, meaning there could be a need for 100-200 million metric tons of plant protein by 2050.
Other movers in the food industry have found success in the meat-alternative market. Vegetable oils and fats producer AAK announced a robust Q2 2019 growth following the launch of their plant-based alternatives.
Additionally, DSM and Avril are joining forces to produce a new protein-based on canola, which will be suitable for a range of applications such as meat and dairy alternatives, beverages, baked products and bars.
By Katherine Durrell
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