Towards a water-wise world Annual report 2014

KWR and partners present Power to Protein  

Residuals as the source of valuable new food proteins

6 October 2014Research
The power to protein process

The power to protein process

The new Power to Protein project within TKI Water Technology revolves around the upgrading of ammoniacal nitrogen from the residuals of the urban water cycle into foodstuffs, that is, protein. A group of knowledge partners – KWR, Wetsus and Ghent University – together with the company Avecom, take the first steps towards assessing the societal support, sustainability and technical feasibility of the project, which could represent a sea change in today’s food supply.

“Soya and fish, the classic sources of protein, are overstretched,” says Willy Verstraete, emeritus professor at Ghent University and spiritual father of Power to Protein. In his enthusiasm for the water sector, Verstraete sees a possible alternative in the use of nitrogen recovered from wastewater. “We can extract the nitrogen in a clean manner and process it into microbial protein – a sort of yeast that we can use as a food protein. The result: you can cut back on the hectares for your soya plantations and reduce your fish catch from the sea.”

“KWR can contribute to building the support and regulatory framework for Power to Protein”

Overview of the entire water cycle

Before this can come about, there’s a lot of work to do, stresses Verstraete. “To start with, the concept has to receive public and regulatory acceptance. Extracting materials from the wastewater cycle in order to make food from it, raises questions. Good communications will be needed. The transformation of the raw materials into microbial cells has to be done using a renewable energy source; this will involve working with green electricity.
The sustainability as well as the technical feasibility of the process must be demonstrated. Work is underway on all these aspects. And KWR has an important assignment: with its overview of the entire water cycle, I expect it to contribute to building the support and the regulatory framework needed to actually get Power to Protein off the ground.”

Reducing the footprint of today’s food supply

Knowledge partner Wetsus is delighted to work on the Power to Protein project. “If we manage to bring a high-value and acceptable product to the market,” says Programme Manager Jan Post, “we will be able to reduce today’s food supply footprint. But we’re not there yet: we first have to find parties who would be interested in investing in the concept’s research and development.” If this succeeds, Wetsus will want to research the technical breakthroughs needed to render the sewage-recovered protein economically profitable and technically feasible, as well as to ensure that it meets food safety requirements.

From the research bench to practice

The Wetsus scientists expect KWR and the businesses taking part in the project to transpose their work from the research bench to practice. The Wetsus research focuses on the optimisation of the upgrading of residuals as the first step in the production of microbial proteins. At the same time the goal is come up with the best recipe: What ingredients, preparation method and conditions are needed to produce the best quality and greatest quantity of proteins?

© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute

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