Yeast-produced milk-fat alternative wins the Rethink Protein Student Challenge #2

Published on
June 25, 2021

Team ‘Cultivated’ won the Grand Finale of the Rethink Protein Challenge with their dairy-fat alternative produced with precision yeast fermentation. They won in the most demanding category, Prototyping, and were awarded the prize money of €6000. ‘AlgO’ won in the Ideation category with their idea to cultivate micro-algae on waste-streams. They were awarded €3000. Both teams will also receive professional support to further develop their projects for real impact on the world protein supply.

In an exciting, live streamed Grand Finale, the jury finally chose Cultivated  as the winner in Prototyping, although it was a very hard choice. The jury, consisting of representatives from companies like Lely and DSM, said that their product, which is not in itself a protein, was ‘very relevant to enabling the protein transition’ and could be a ‘game changer’. Cultivated’s product would serve to improve dairy alternatives by supplying a milk-fat substitute. AlgO, the winner of the Ideation category, ‘nailed it!’ Their idea for a portable facility ‘offers a lot of flexibility’, according to the jury. ‘You can bring it anywhere the waste-stream is.’

The audience of the live stream voted on their favourite finalist. With 53% of the votes, Blue Chitin became the crowd favorite out of the total of six winners in both categories. They concepted a feed additive for fish feed made with waste from the shrimp industry.

40% more protein by 2050

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) organized the Rethink Protein Student Challenge for the second time, as a way to ask students from all over the world how they would tackle the protein transition. Researchers at WUR estimate that the world will need 40% more protein by 2050, which is why the world will need new sources of protein that are healthy, affordable and sustainable. Other winners in the Grand Finale proposed to source insects for protein, or to use the by-products of existing industries, like tomato-seeds. Two teams proposed to genetically engineering yeast-organisms to produce better dairy-alternatives.

The teams were challenged to think of more than just new proteins. They will need to show that a market exists for their innovation and how it will positively impact the world. To this end, contestants in the Ideation category presented a well elaborated, concrete business proposal. The contestants in Prototyping went one step further. They showed the judges a complete business plan and a minimal viable product, which is an example of the products their innovation makes possible. For example: team Sahara’s cricket-based meal box, which won them third place.

And now?

All six winners will receive prize money and professional support to further develop their idea. Because that is what the Protein Challenge is all about: real innovation to feed the world. The runner-up in Prototyping of the first edition of the Challenge, now called FUMI Ingredients, developed his idea to isolate proteins from algae into a Wageningen University & Research spin-off. FUMI Ingredients received half a million euro in investments this January to produce a plant-based alternative to egg whites, used to bind vegan meat alternatives. Who knows where this years winners will be in a year?

Do you have question about the Rethink Protein Student Challenge, contact Rio Pals or visit the Rethink Protein website.