Ghent University: Proteins from microbial fermentation get boost with The ProteInn Club

In Ghent, an innovation platform has been christened that will advance a fairly new (f)actor in the food landscape and the broader bioeconomy, namely proteins made through fermentation-based production processes. ‘The ProteInn Club’ is the name; the ‘inn’ refers to innovation. Knowledge centers Ghent University (UGent), CAPTURE, ILVO and the pilot facility Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) are the proud parents.
The ambition is to achieve a significant sustainability gain in the world of proteins, 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 (through the Ghent Economic Board) are all enthusiastically supporting the initiative.

Microbial protein? Time is ripe for versatile possibilities
Traditional fermentation-based products have existed for years: beer, baker’s yeast, vinegar, biogas, etc. The production of proteins using microbial fermentation has only recently gained worldwide interest. Due to current challenges such as climate change, nitrogen problems, more economical use of space and water, food security, etc., people worldwide are looking for various alternatives, in addition to the traditional protein sources.
A precisely tuned bioreactor is central to the microbial protein production process. In it, you can efficiently and in a controlled way convert industrial by-products or residual flows from the agro and food sectors into high-quality proteins. These can then be used in a variety of applications in food, animal feed and fine chemicals. Connections must be made in order to close the chain from raw material to finished product. This requires time, energy, knowledge sharing, innovation… In short, a smart, accelerating platform.

Ecosystem arount Ghent
In the region around Ghent, a remarkable ecosystem of companies, research centers and pilot facilities working with fermentation-based proteins has been developing for some time now. There is the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant in the Port of Ghent and the Food Pilot of Flanders’FOOD and ILVO in Melle.

Prof. Wim Soetaert, CEO of BBEPP: “In our pilot and demonstration facilities in Ghent, we are equipped to scale up the production of fermentation-based proteins. It goes from lab scale to 75,000 liters industrial scale. Biomass fermentation means that the microorganism itself is harvested, because it is rich in protein (e.g. ‘Quorn’ meat substitute). In precision fermentation, the microorganism itself is a factory for a specific protein (e.g., a milk protein, collagen or myoglobin, a meat protein).”
One of the possible waste streams which the producing single-cell organisms can convert, is CO2, a residual product that poses a major challenge for companies in North Sea Port.

Stijn Ronsse (ceo CAPTURE): “We look at circular issues from a value chain perspective from raw material to product. In the ecosystem of The ProteInn Club, that approach fits perfectly.”
Building a value chain around microbial proteins is more efficient if there is also applied research available on the final processing and valorization of the residual flows.

Dr. Lieve Herman, ILVO department head and CEO Food Pilot Melle: “Processing companies can only start working with an alternative protein source when they have mastered the characteristics and behavior of the ingredient (taste, binding power, texture, shelf life…). ILVO in Melle is specialized in that respect. Together with Flanders’ FOOD has invested in the necessary pilot equipment for food and feed applications.”