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CORDIS - EU research results



Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-09-30

Access to high quality, sustainably produced proteins is becoming increasingly restricted due to a growing world population, increased pressure on natural resources and climate change, while at the same time the global protein demand has never been higher. To meet the increasing demand, current protein production will have to double by 2050. The EU is not self-sufficient when it comes to protein production. A large proportion of the current protein demand is met with imported proteins and the protein deficit has been fluctuating between 70% and 80% in the past forty years, with severe concerns regarding food security and the general competitiveness of the EU.
NextGenProteins will optimise the production of three alternative proteins and verify their suitability in various feed and food applications, in order to meet customers’ needs and ensure consumer acceptance. The project will contribute to strengthening food security, sustainability and self-sufficiency of EU protein production by demonstrating the suitability and economic viability of next-generation proteins as part of food and feed value chains; with less strain on natural resources and reduced environmental impacts.

The overall objective of NextGenproteins has been defined as: "To optimise and validate, in an industrially relevant environment, the production of proteins from microalgae, single cells and insects and demonstrate their suitability as alternative sustainable sources in food and feed value chains."
The project is organised into different parts that addresses the major shortcomings and research areas in order to develop and market the three different alternative proteins. The European regulatory framework for alternative proteins, food and feed was specifically evaluated to identify barriers for innovations and how they may be addressed. The work included interviewing the industrial participants to gather their view and experiences on the regulatory and safety framework, as well as on other regulations governing the production, safety, and application of alternative proteins for food and feed. On the basis of the work, knowledge gaps and regulatory safety barriers have been highlighted with a focus on the three NextGenProteins. Among the main outtakes from the interviews was that consumer health is the most important aspect and therefore scientific information of the new proteins is needed. Traceability and labeling of the products is important and education of consumers/farmers/other stakeholders about new protein sources is needed.
One of the most important task of the project is the development and production of microalgae, insect and SCP proteins and their production optimisation and upscaling. A database with proximate, amino acid, minerals and fatty acid composition and results on the digestibility of the proteins, as well as on the potential existence of toxins and allergens has been set up. The functional properties of the alternative proteins have also been assessed. The sensory properties have been tested and are being improved as much as the production processes allow in the ongoing product development of new ingredients for food and feed products.
Implementation and demonstration of the application potentials of the proteins for food and feed is ongoing. Many food prototypes have already been developed by the food industry partners. The proteins have been showcased in ready-meals, bread, snacks, emulsion products and drinks. For animal feed, the technological and nutritional quality of the proteins has been evaluated in extrusion processes before producing test diets and assessing the feeds using physico-chemical analyses. Two poultry feeding trials were carried out during the period as well as feeding trials on seabream. One field trial on seabream has been carried out. Salmon dose and field feeding trials have also been completed.
NextGenProteins is exploring market and business opportunities for the alternative proteins and how to boost consumer acceptance. Focus group discussions carried out in seven European countries indicated strongly that consumers are aware of the need for these kinds of new food production methods and products and value their sustainability benefits. An interview study on stakeholder attitudes towards the NextGen proteins has also been carried out showing that the overall attitude of the interviewed stakeholders towards the NextGen proteins is positive.
The environmental and economic impact that the alternative proteins have on sustainability aspects and value chain risks is currently being assessed with collection of data and building datasets for the ongoing sustainability analyses, such as Life Cycle Assessment. The production aims of the NextGenProteins producers are relatively modest in terms of quantity as well as their requirement for full time employees. The production is likely to have a minor impact on the market for proteins and employment in general. However, the importance of the production could be quite large at a local or even regional level.
The partners have developed and applied an innovative Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework to effectively disseminate project results and to ensure their exploitation. The established RRI framework links the objectives and expected impacts of the project with the concept of RRI and the global grand challenges related to alternative proteins. The partners have been active in dissemination through social media, the NextGenProtein website and are planning independently and in collaboration with the three other projects funded under the same call, in setting up workshops and meetings for wider dissemination and communication.
Overall, at the completion of the first 36 months, NextGenProteins is on a good track in reaching all the specific objectives during the project lifetime. Work has started for all major aspects of the project; the work in the preparation and testing phase of the project is progressing well and is expected to give the necessary outputs on time for the business, consumer and exploitation phase of the project. NextGenProteins will achieve its objectives by enabling efficient production and processing methods for the three highly promising alternative protein sources and evaluate their potentials for commercial utilisation in both food and feed. The novelty of the project is to create value from waste by applying three bio-conversion processes, each utilising an existing industrial and/or commercial waste stream to create safe, sustainable, high-quality proteins in line with EU regulatory frameworks. NextGenProteins will identify potential production bottlenecks for the three protein sources and pave the way for industrial up-scaling through practical-, research- and/or concept application in feed and food products. Application potentials will be explored in close collaboration between the multi-disciplinary RTD partners and the small, medium and large food and feed production/marketing companies within the consortium. NextGenProteins will utilise the combined strength and expertise of the RTD, business and market partners, as well as those of stakeholders and consumers, to develop resilient and sustainable alternative protein value chains in line with the values, needs and expectations of both producers and the consumers.
Consortium photo from the kick-off meeting