An innovation platform has been launched in Ghent to promote a fairly new (f) player in the food landscape and the wider bioeconomy, namely proteins produced via fermentation-based production processes. ‘The ProteInn Club’ is the name, with the ‘inn’ of innovation. The UGent, CAPTURE, ILVO knowledge centers and the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) are the proud parents.
The ambition is to achieve significant sustainability gains in the protein world by accelerating the realization of new value chains on an industrial scale based on research and development. 27 companies are already showing serious interest. The Flemish government, the province of East Flanders and the city of Ghent (via the Hefboom Fund) are enthusiastically supporting the initiative.
Microbial protein: versatile options
Traditional fermentation-based products have been around for years: beer, yeast, vinegar, biogas, etc. The production of proteins with microbial fermentation has only recently gained worldwide interest. Based on current challenges such as global warming, nitrogen problems, more economical use of space and water, food security, etc., various alternatives to the classic protein sources are being sought worldwide.
A precisely controlled bioreactor is central to the microbial protein production process. In it you can efficiently and controlled transform the industrial by-products or residues from the agro and food sector into high quality proteins. These can then be used in various ways in food, animal feed and fine chemicals. In order to close the chain from raw material to finished end product, connections and collaborations must be created. It requires time, energy, knowledge sharing, innovation … In short, a smart, accelerating platform.
Ecosystems in the Ghent region
In the region around Ghent, a rather unique ecosystem of companies, research centers and pilot facilities working with fermentation-based proteins has been under development for some time now. There are, for example, Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant in Ghent harbor and Food Pilot of Flanders’ Food and ILVO in Melle.
Prof. dr. Wim SoetaertCEO of BBEPP: “In our pilot and demonstration facilities in Ghent, we are equipped to scale up a production of fermentation-based proteins. It ranges from laboratory scale to 75,000 liters industrial scale. Biomass fermentation means that the microorganism itself is harvested because it is rich in proteins. (eg Quorn) In precision fermentation, the micro-organism itself is a factory for a specific protein (eg a milk protein, collagen or myoglobin, a meat protein).
One of the possible waste streams that the producing single-celled organisms can convert is CO2, a residual product that e.g. represents a major challenge for companies in North SeaPort.
Stijn Ronnse (CEO CAPTURE): “We look at circular issues from a value chain perspective from raw material to product. This approach fits perfectly into the ecosystem of The ProteInn Club.”
Building a value chain around microbial proteins is more efficient if applied research is also available in the final processing and valorization of the residual streams.
dr. Dear HermanILVO department head and CEO Food Pilot Melle: “Processors can only start with an alternative protein source if they control the ingredient’s properties and behavior (taste, binding, texture, shelf life …). ILVO in Melle specializes in that area and has, together with Flanders FOOD, invested in the necessary pilot equipment for food and feed applications. ”
Ambitious to-do list
In addition to upscaling valuable technology from the laboratory to industrial demonstrations, The ProteInn Club aims to facilitate realistic, healthy, economically and environmentally responsible value chains.
“This means that in a fragmented and sector-driven innovation landscape, we bring companies from different sectors together in projects and remove barriers to collaboration or symbiosis. So in addition to large companies, SMEs and start-ups, the ecosystem around the club’s founders also consists of governments, consumers and investors, ”says Simon de Corte (UGent).
ProteInn Club promises an accelerated development and rollout with its action. “We want to use the available assets to realize a specialized knowledge, expertise and business cluster on a global level with calculated and monitored ecological footprints and environmental impact.
Governments recognize sustainability, climate and circularity
Sustainability is the main driver of innovation with fermentation-based protein products. The production process offers a much higher conversion efficiency (from low quality, abundantly available raw materials to high quality components), reduces – compared to other protein production systems – greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, space intake and the need for protein imports (for feed). Microbial protein production therefore contributes to a circular and bio-based economy.
Jo Brons (Minister of Economy, Innovation and Agriculture): “In our Flemish protein strategy, we also mention microbial protein as one of the development paths to be explored. As a government, we therefore support this platform that connects scientific knowledge with industry and with the ambition of It also fits perfectly with the ambitions of the Flemish bioeconomy policy plan to transform biomass into new products in order to become more independent of external inputs. “
The city of Ghent and the province of East Flanders also joined the club, based on the expected ecological, economic and social added value.
Interest from the industry
In the region, 27 companies have already shown their interest, commitment and some also experience with microbial fermentation. After an initial round of exploratory discussion, they decided to join an industrial sounding board group in The ProteInn Club. The 27 include companies from traditional food and feed production, companies seeking solutions for their waste streams, technology and machine builders, and companies processing biomass for retail.
The first collective thematic discussions have already taken place and showed the need to connect very different things: different product flows, infrastructure, raw materials, suppliers of microbial strains, developers of fermentation processes and technologies, processors of ‘harvested’ material, producers of finished foods, feed or cosmetic products and chemicals and their distributors. The ProteInn Club will work on this and help them from the growth of ideas to the concept phase (TRL 1), over the pilot phase and the demo phase to the final implementation phase (TRL 9).
Read on darethink.be how CO₂ from the steel producer ArcelorMittal Belgium is converted into proteins, which in turn can be used for fish feed.
There are not many regions in the world that potentially have as much to offer in terms of microbial fermentation as the region around Ghent currently has.
“There is a strong economic signal here,” said the East Flemish deputy director of finance And Vervliet, “The complementarity and strong collaboration between the knowledge partners UGent, CAPTURE, ILVO and the pilot plant BBEPP is striking. Their expertise, research and upscaling of infrastructure and networks span the entire value chain of activities as well as the various stages of the development process. “
ProteInn Club runs immediately at full speed, with contacts, project ideas, technical advice. Do you, as a company, government or organization, want to explore your role in the described protein value chain? Find us through
Website The ProteInn Club
ProteInn Club / Food Pilot / ILVO)
T +32 9 272 30 15