The vertical farming system OrbiPlant® at the Fraunhofer IME.

Mealworms as an alternative protein source in human food.

Cultivating microalgae in photobioreactors.

Fungi being cultivated in a liquid medium inside a bioreactor.

Leitprojekt »FutureProteins«

Coupled agricultural systems for a resilient and sustainbale production of high-quality food proteins 

 

The lighthouse project “FutureProteins” combines the production of alternative protein sources in closed agricultural systems with an integrated use of all by-products to create further protein raw materials. Selected plants (potatoes, wheatgrass and alfalfa), insects (mealworms), filamentous fungi as well as microalgae serve as alternative protein sources within the project. All of these sources contain high-quality amino acids that are essential for human foods as well as good processing properties, making them particularly attractive for the food industry. 

The lighthouse project focuses on four closed cultivation systems: vertical farming for plants, insect farming for mealworms, bioreactors for fungi, and photobioreactors for algae. A major advantage is that the individual protein sources can be grown all year round, independent of climate, and therefore with high efficiency and resilience. Moreover, the closed cultivation systems are very resource-efficient methods compared to conventional farming processes: vertical farming requires only 5% of the usual water amount and 50% less fertilizer, while no pesticides are required. 

Another important aspect of “FutureProtiens” is the use and exploitation of by-products from energy, waste and water emerging from the four applied cultivation systems and their individual processes to generate closed, cost-efficient and resource-conserving cycles along the value chain. For example: besides the manufacturing of plant-based protein ingredients in vertical farms, all plant parts will be used as a substrate for the cultivation of insects, fungi and algae, while waste heat can be used for air-conditioning in insect farming.    

At last, the sensory and functional properties of the new protein sources will be optimized and refined for a broad application spectrum in the food industry. This comprises the development of food formulations with an improved nutritional profile as well as the evaluation of consumer acceptance and sustainability factors. 

The duration of the lighthouse project will span four years. Within Fraunhofer, the project is of high relevance for the strategic research fields “Bioeconomy” as well as “Resource Efficiency and Climate Technology” and for the lighthouse market “Food Economics”. The ambitious aim of “FutureProteins” is a novel and particularly sustainable approach, based on global demand, which lays the foundation for new development projects and for a future technology leadership by Fraunhofer in the agricultural and food sector.  

 

Participating institutes

 

Plants

Select plants, particularly potatoes, wheatgrass and alfalfa, act as new, alternative protein sources. 

 

Insects

The sustainbale production of insect protein is a globally prospering alternative for proteins in human food. 

 

Fungi

Asia has been consuming fungal mycelia of the order Mucolares for centuries, for example in the form of tempeh. 

 

Algae

Micoalgae belong to the most important biomass producers worldwide and are already used for the commercial production of high-end products. 

 

 

Material and energy streams

Material and energy streams of the individual cultivation systms are supposed to be exploited more sustainably and efficiently by establishing circulatory systems. 

 

Processing

The modification of alternative protein ingredients will improve their application properties as well as their sensory properties. 

 

Product manufacturing

The development of sensorically appealing, plant-based food such as baked goods, pasta, dairy and meat alternatives - right up to marketability of the products. 

Sustainability and system analysis

The project combines extensive competencies from sectors such as renewable energies, energy efficiency, waste management and packaging materials as well as food and bio-based systems. 

 

News section: project results