The development of the biobased economy has led to increasing demands for biomass for non-food applications, and is therefore often seen as a threat to food security. Innovative biorefining concepts aimed at optimal utilisation of biomass allow us both to satisfy the need for food & feed and to facilitate the development of biobased applications.
Ensuring the availability of sufficient safe and healthy food for a growing world population is the greatest challenge faced by the food and feed industry today. Biomass is a good potential source of valuable components for food and feed, but also for biobased materials, biobased chemicals and energy.
High-value utilisation of biomass
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research examines how to use biomass in an optimal way while maximising value. Priorities within our research are upgrading side streams from the food & feed industry, developing new materials for food & feed ingredients (such as proteins from green leaves or algae) and applying mild separation techniques which preserve the functionality of macro and micro nutrients.
Opportunities from food side streams
A large part of the crops produced by agriculture do not end up on consumer plates but are traded as by-product in the food processing industry. In food processing, all components not contributing to the central application are considered a side stream and eventually assigned to a relatively low-value application. The valorisation of these side streams is one of the research priorities at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. Our work allows us to find various high-value applications for side streams. This in turn generates added value for industry as several different products can be made from a single source.
Other quality requirements for food & feed applications
Non-technological elements, such as market quality standards and existing infrastructures, are vital for the success rate of new product applications based on biomass. While quality standards for products are based on current sources of food ingredients, components from side streams may have unique properties, such as different taste characteristics. Working with potential end users is therefore important so as to avoid overlooking precious value upgrade stages. Through use of existing infrastructures the costs for processing of side streams can be kept low.
Fresh Biomass Refinery Parc (FBR-PARC)
With its Fresh Biomass Refinery Parc (FBR-PARC), Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has taken the initiative to make better use of fresh biomass (such as grass, leaves and potatoes, as well as side streams from greenhouses and process residues) and aquatic biomass (such as algae and duckweed). Fresh biomass is currently mainly used in low-grade applications as a raw material for fermentation or soil improvers. In the FBR-PARC centre, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research brings together partners to jointly set up new value chains for higher-value use of fresh biomass through knowledge development and the pooling of expertise and technology. This development is supported by an innovative infrastructure which allows feasibility studies to be carried out. An interesting project we are currently working on deploys proteins from fresh and aquatic biomass in food, feed and biobased applications.
Innovative separation techniques
The successful application of biorefining for food, animal feed or biobased products depends on the possibilities to separate the available biomass into various functional components. Hydrolysis, fractionation and separation technologies are the most vital aspects herein. Working with Wageningen University, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research develops new technologies which reduce the consumption of water, energy and chemicals on the one hand, and ensure that the natural structure of the components is preserved on the other. This allows us to develop new functional ingredients for food, feed and biobased applications.