Traditionally, the Dutch province of Brabant has a strong agricultural sector. In addition, it is one of the world’s top high-tech regions. So it’s not strange at all that this province is also making big leaps at the intersection of these two sectors. In fact, Brabant-based agritech and foodtech developments are currently helping the global food transition go forward, according to the research report “Agrifood Sector“, commissioned by the Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maatschappij (BOM). Especially the production of non-animal proteins and the development of high-tech machinery stand out. The Protein Brewery is a good example of this first category.
Protein is currently one of the most unsustainable parts of our food chain. Sixty percent of it comes from animals. This is, especially in view of the increasing world population, an unsustainable situation in relation to land, water and energy consumption, nitrogen overproduction and animal welfare. In other words: if the food transition – which is at least as necessary as the energy transition – can be won somewhere, then it is with proteins.
The Protein Brewery founder Wim de Laat has been aware of this for a long time. At the lab level, he has been producing proteins from sugars for seven years now. Beets, corn, and potatoes are just as nutritious but at the same time much cheaper and above all much more sustainable raw materials for proteins than cows, pigs and chickens are. “Without nitrogen emissions, without animal suffering, and much less soil-intensive, we can provide the world’s population with its complete protein needs.”
Thanks to a recent 22 million euros investment, the Breda-based The Protein Brewery will be able to take the first steps towards a commercial implementation of what until now was mainly visible at the lab level. “In 2021, we will have our first demo factory, but partly due to regulations it will take another three years before we can really start serving the market on a full scale.”
How it works
The Protein Brewery is all about fermentation, a process in which bacteria, yeasts, or molds are used to produce food. Well-known examples of such products are yogurt, beer, and sauerkraut. But it can also be used to make proteins, which in turn serve as a raw material for food. That’s what The Protein Brewery does, based on sugars that are extracted locally. De Laat: “There are five ideal plants, which makes this process feasible on every continent. Think of potatoes and sugar beet, but also corn, cassava, and sugar cane. As a result, the supply of proteins can become virtually unlimited. If we were to double the sugar acreage now, we would no longer need animals at all for our protein.”
The product that De Laat and his team want to have on the market – be it in small quantities – in 2021, already has a name: Fermotein™. Although production has yet to begin at the market level, The Protein Brewery is already looking for customers. According to De Laat, food production with Fermotein is easy to carry out, scalable, available all year round, at low cost, can be produced locally, and is sustainable. “With a limited use of land compared to the production of beef (1%) and pork (3%) and the use of 100% renewable energy, The Protein Brewery actively reduces the impact on the environment.”
Meanwhile, De Laat is looking forward to a future in which no more meat is needed to meet our protein needs. “I’m not a vegan, a bit of meat now and then can be just fine. But then, let’s make it really organic and small-scale: from pigs and cows that have space and are not raised in a medieval way. Today’s system may be good for banks, investors, and wholesalers, but not for farmers and the world.”
The big question, of course, is when the consumer will be ready for the change. That depends for the most part on the products that will soon be created with the raw materials from The Protein Brewery. In the meantime, De Laat wants to show with his company that it is possible to start the food transition by producing proteins without harming the world. He summarizes the advantages once more: “With our way of working, the production of animal food can be drastically reduced. It contributes to reducing global warming, animal suffering, and nitrogen emissions, while at the same time providing a solution for feeding a population that will grow to 10 billion people by 2050.”
Well, who would oppose such a transition?
A related good read: A juicy piece of meat made of vegetable proteins