Biotech Campus Delft leads the way in protein transition

How can we provide protein for ten billion people? The collection of solutions to this problem is called ‘the protein transition’. The Biotech Campus Delft is leading the way.

For a healthy and complete diet, we need macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals) and fibers. Proteins we get mainly through animal sources; meat, fish, egg, dairy. But there is a huge problem looming in our protein supply. One of the reasons is the growth of the world population to nine to ten billion people in 2050. A second, important reason is the rise in world prosperity: more people can afford meat.

Cow is an inefficient ‘meat factory’

Meat and other animal proteins are a relatively expensive, but very popular, part of our diet. Unfortunately, animal proteins come with a much bigger price tag than we feel in our wallets. Take meat as an example: a cow is a very inefficient meat factory. Producing one kilogram of beef takes an enormous amount of energy; a cow itself must eat twenty kilograms of plant protein to produce one kilogram of animal protein (beef)! In addition, cows are major polluters. They emit lots of methane, CO2, nitrate and phosphate. It has been estimated that the meat industry emits as many greenhouse gases as all the planes, boats and trucks in the world! The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) predicts that by 2050 we will consume twice as much meat worldwide as we do today. Already 70% of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock production, especially for growing animal feed.
Doubling meat consumption would thus lead to an unacceptably large increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the total deforestation of the earth. So how can we provide protein for ten billion people? The collection of solutions to this problem is called the protein transition.

The protein transition

The simplest part of the protein transition, something we can all start with today, is simply eating less meat. In the Netherlands, meat consumption has gradually doubled since the 1950s to about 100 grams per person per day. That’s 30% above the recommended daily allowance. So it’s no problem to eat a little less meat. In addition, more and more vegetable protein based meat substitutes enter the market. Growing numbers of consumers consciously choose vegetable protein instead of meat, or protein-rich products such as legumes. Much research is being carried out into tasty meat substitutes and new, sustainable sources of protein. At the Biotech Campus Delft we also pay a lot of attention to this subject.

A few nice examples

We have been cultivating yeast here since 1869. The yeast extracts function as natural flavorings. The special feature of yeast is its savory taste. DSM can make extracts that give a vegetable product a rich chicken or beef flavor. Chances are, if your plant-based hamburger is surprisingly similar to a real hamburger, it has DSM ingredients in it! We are also working on sustainable vegetable proteins at the Biotech Campus. You probably know the huge yellow fields full of rapeseed flowers. Traditionally, this plant is used to extract vegetable oil. A team of DSM researchers has succeeded in isolating protein from the residual product after rapeseed oil extraction. This is a good tasting and healthy protein for meat substitutes, bakery products, drinks, protein bars and more. The process has been developed in the pilot plant on our campus. A larger production facility is currently being built in France, close to the rapeseed fields. This vegetable protein ingredient will enter the market next year.

Worldcup of protein transition

In the future, protein products that excel in sustainability or culinary experience will be launched on the market. Two companies on our campus are playing in the world cup of protein transition. The English startup Deep Branch is working in Delft on a revolutionary technology in which CO2 emissions are recycled by microorganisms that can grow on CO2 and hydrogen. These micro-organisms are full of healthy protein, which is perfectly suited for fish feed. In this way, fish can be produced with 60% fewer emissions.

And Meatable, the first start-up to settle on the Biotech Campus, is working very hard on ‘cultured meat’. That is a real meat product made by growing beef or pork cells into muscle fibers. It tastes and looks like real meat, but has never seen a cow or a pig. The technology was originally developed in the Netherlands, with Mark Post presenting the very first cultured hamburger in London in 2013. There is now a battle going on around the world to produce cultured meat on a larger scale and at an acceptable cost. According to research firm CE Delft, compared to real (beef) meat, cultured meat requires 95% less land use, and means 93% less pollution, 92% less warming, and 78% less water use!

Doing our bit together

Planet on the Biotech Campus Delft attracts innovative companies that play a role in the protein transition. By bringing these companies together on one site, they can learn from each other and make use of the equipment and knowledge on campus and at Delft University of Technology. In this way, the companies can grow faster, Delft benefits from high-quality employment, and together we can contribute to the transition to a sustainable economy!