Harper Adams University: £2 million Pasture to Plate project set to create more sustainable palm oil and soya alternatives – using grass

An ambitious research project investigating technology which produces food products from grass is set to launch after receiving £2m funding from the UKRI/BBSRC.

The Pasture to Plate (P2P) project, led by Harper Adams University and the University of Bath, has already attracted interest from a wide range of organisations and businesses.

Over the next three years, it will seek to develop and refine processes which could have a transformative effect on United Kingdom and global food production.

Head of Engineering Research at the Harper Adams-based National Centre for Precision Farming, and Principal Investigator for the Project, Dr Richard Green, said: “We will be developing a revolutionary system for converting grass into food – after processing the grass, we will separate out a wide range of initial nutrients, after which we will culture yeast on the remaining material converting it into oils and further extractable edible food fractions, with any residual material converted into a nutrient rich fertilizer.”

“It is very efficient – we estimate that from around one and a half to two kilos of dried grass, we can produce a kilo of edible food fractions. This is ten times more efficient than using livestock to convert grass into meat or milk and has the potential to massively increase UK food production and food resilience.”

The process produces a wide range of edible food fractions including oils, proteins, essential vitamins, and carbohydrates. These have the potential to rapidly replace imported ingredients such as soy and palm oil in all mainstream, vegetarian, and vegan foods, dramatically reducing food miles, transport costs, fuel emissions, and the commercial incentive to destroy rainforests.

The team believes that the technology is eminently scalable and, with major food companies already showing significant interest, expect its adoption to radically and quickly alter the way food is produced both in the United Kingdom and globally.

The funding will be used to investigate increasing biodiversity by using wildflower rich grass mixes as feedstocks, determine the most suitable grass varieties for production, establish optimal processing plant size and positioning, develop low-energy methods to extract the components, further scale the novel yeast biotechnology to increase the productivity, assess the components as ingredients in foods, investigate consumer acceptance of these foods, as well as determining the overall economic viability and sustainability of the system.

The work will be conducted at the University of Bath’s state-of-the-art biological scale-up labs, and specialist facilities and at Harper Adams’ 494ha University Farm and Food Technology centre.

Further development of the novel food ingredients will take place at Saputo’s Global Innovation Centre. The centre is co-located on the Harper Adams campus, and houses food development laboratories, which will be used to assess the new ingredients and how they fit into existing production processes and food products.

If the technology proves successful, the team expect the project to produce a host of benefits.

Christopher Chuck, Professor of Bioprocess Engineering in Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering, said: “By creating a genuinely new approach to using grass as a food or ingredient, we have the potential to create a virtuous circle that will benefit our environment in a number of ways. This process would dramatically increase UK domestic food production, reduce deforestation, make previously unviable arable land productive, increase soil health, reduce the impact of livestock overgrazing, and make soil and grassland ecosystems more sustainable.”

Dr Green added: “Grass is more resilient to flooding and other extreme weather conditions than most other crops – which means we would see an improved resilience to climate change. We’d also see arable land that is prone to flooding profitably returned to meadow grass production, including wildflower-rich varieties, boosting our own biodiversity – and grass could also be added to arable rotations with resulting benefits for farmers and the wider public.

“We are truly excited about the potential impact of this project.”

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