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Upcycling Food Waste into a Sustainable Urban Plant Protein

Technology Overview

A Singapore start-up has developed a sustainable source of plant protein fermentating a strain of algae using food waste in fermentation tanks. With the demand to feed 10 billion people by 2050, it is necessary for alternative protein options as current sources of protein may not meet the demands of the growing population With its rapid fermentation process, this plant protein offers attractive alternatives to animal protein. These benefits include higher food security and safety, mitigated supply chain risks, more economic to produce and a small urban-based manufacturing footprint. For consumers, the sustainable plant protein contains the full suite of nutrients recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO). It also contains higher amount of total Essential Amino Acids (EAA) than real seafood. The unique plant protein has the potential to be realised as a high quality protein flour or concentrate, health supplement, alternative protein food such as plant-based seafood and as a quality fish feed. These applications will interest potential partners such as plant-based food makers, supplement companies, conventional food manufacturers and animal farms.

Technology Features & Specifications

Out of screening 800 species, the Singapore company has developed a unique strain of algae with less than 0.5% chance of finding a similar strain. This strain of microalgae is unique as it is able to be grown in tanks in just three days, which is three to four times faster than other strains. This particular strain not only achieves 60% of protein after fermentation, it also features the full nutrients as recommended by WHO. Together with a specialised fermentation process, the technology offered by this company presents a highly sustainable and attractive protein alternative for consumers.

Compared to the conventional way of cultivating algae in raceway ponds, fermenting algae in tanks is superior: the production process does not rely on sunlight, has no contamination risk, requires very little space and is not affected by the external climate. Fermentation tanks also produce a higher algae density of 100g/L as compared to 10g/L in raceway ponds. Significantly, the highly sustainable fermentation process uses food waste such as spent grains from breweries, okara from tofu makers and molasses from sugar refineries to grow the algae. Its lipid by-product can be used to make other products such as supplements, cooking oil and biofuel; forming a circular economy, further reducing costs.

To illustrate, the process of producing the algae protein is much more economical than producing animal protein for example, beef. Producing 1 ton of the algae protein uses less than 0.02 hectares as compare to 141 hectares required by beef. In terms of water, only 2 to 5 litres per gram of algae protein is used compared to the 112 litres of water required to produce 1 gram of beef. Finally, the sustainable urban plant protein only requires 3 days to harvest, while beef takes 540 days to age. With the production facility close to cities, the process can greatly help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate supply chain disruptions.

The company offers technology expertise in producing and harvesting its unique strain of microalgae into a viable plant protein in only three days. The proprietary process includes the development of a specially designed enzyme for fermentation that improves taste, texture and colour as well as digestibility and absorption. A formula, which can be replicated to other alternative protein food products, has also been developed to create a tasty seafood alternative with an EAA profile better than real seafood as such tuna, salmon and red snapper.

Potential Applications

The sustainable urban plant protein has the potential to be realised in the following applications in the food, supplement and farming industries.

  • High quality protein concentrate such as flour
  • Health supplement
  • Alternative protein food especially for seafood
  • High quality fish feed

Interested potential partners include plant-based food makers, supplement companies, conventional food manufacturers and animal farms.

Market Trends and Opportunities

The total addressable market of this technology is estimated at 16 billion USD by 2025. According to Mintel data, in the US alone, 38% of the population is seeking plant-based alternatives to fish, meat, eggs and dairy at least part of the time. In particular, plant-based seafood alternatives appeal to the 3-4% of adults and 8% of children who are allergic to seafood or shellfish. On a global scale, a 6.4% compound annual growth rate is projected for the meat alternative market, which should reach $5.7 billion by 2020, also according to Mintel. 

Customer Benefits

For partners, the key economic benefits include:

  • Higher food safety standards and security
  • Mitigated supply chain risks
  • Less resources and costs to meet the same protein production demands
  • A sustainable and circular economy

For end-user customers, benefits of the plant protein include:

  • Vegan alternative to meet the recommended adult daily protein requirement of 60g 
  • More total Essential Amino Acids (EAA) content as compared to real seafood
  • No use of herbicides, fertilizers or antibiotics
  • Soy-free, non-GMO, gluten-free and kosher

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