May 2017 – The Upfront Chromatography potential for chromatography in the plant protein industry

We spoke to Povl-André Bendz, CEO at UpFront Chromatography A/S, about new protein technologies and their possible contribution to a future protein agenda. UpFront Chromatograph is a also a member of the research PROMINENT consortium (prominent-protein.eu).

Which new protein technology has inspired you in the past year?
Separating proteins from various industrial feed streams has been known for many decades. Well known technologies today were developed decades ago to meet the increasing demand for such proteins as ingredients in food applications. Yet, many of the same technologies are still being used broadly today even though these techniques are having difficulty living up to today’s requirements for capacity and product yield and quality.

My first experience with Expanded Bed Adsorption (EBA) chromatography was 1½ years ago. I was fascinated about its potential because of its ability for isolating proteins from large and valuable industrial scale feed stream, such as milk or crop processing streams with capacities up to as much as 600,000 kg per day employing a single EBA column. This means that the potentials for processing very high industrial volumes in a broad number of industries, such as dairies, wheat, corn and rice producers, and other plant protein production is very interesting in terms of optimizing resource use and improving yield and quality of the products thus improving the process economy. EBA is a very reliable and robust technique, well documented, and now also food and pharma certified.

What are the potential benefits?
The EBA system, which is a fully automated system patented and designed by Upfront Chromatography A/S, provides a very simple method which can be incorporated into existing, complex production processes in a large industrial scale feed streams. Because of the characteristics of EBA mentioned above, this downstream processing technique produces world class quality proteins of high purity and solubility. Purity and value of EBA produced proteins is comparable or better than the highest benchmarks on the market for individual protein products.

What is the potential for chromatography in the plant protein industry?
Today, the strategic focus of Upfront is whey proteins processed from raw milk and whey. However, the pipeline for the next strategic focus is beyond doubt the plant protein industry simply because of the industrial scale volumes which EBA systems can accommodate so easily. Of course, it requires an evaluation of the business case from case to case, but the potentials are high and very interesting for the industry as well for Upfront because of the possibilities to capture valuable proteins from flow streams that otherwise would be discarded.

What is the most promising opportunity to add more value to processing wheat, rice or corn?
The feed stream volume for example from wheat, is impressively large and the potential value of the proteins hidden in this stream, with superior properties and functionality as an ingredient, can potentially transform a waste stream into a highly valued source of functional proteins. With the help of EBA, the wheat processing industry could potentially release so much more value from natural proteins processed out a wheat waste stream that in purity and functionality will offer new possibilities and substitute other plant proteins or even the milk protein isolates. This makes sense both from a business perspective and environmental perspective.

What are the biggest limitations or obstacles at present?
The EBA system has its limitations because of its relatively high costs. If the volume of a potential process feed stream is low, it can be difficult to find the optimal economic model for protein production from this stream. However, if the volume is high and we can find the optimal production processes in cooperation with the individual industrial players, the potentials are unlimited. So, volume and process efficiency are the biggest factors yielding limitations and obstacles for grabbing added value out of the waste streams using EBA technology.

Which technologies offer new opportunities in this respect?
Needless for me to say, I consider EBA as developed by Upfront a serious challenger to other technologies that traditionally have been utilized in this respect. Other technologies such as packed bed chromatography, membrane filtration and bulk precipitations, are well-known technologies, but all face the challenges with the very high volume streams involved in processing wheat, corn and rice. Since the amount of proteins hidden in these volume streams are relatively low per kg of stream and the market value of the proteins are quite low in comparison to for example certain milk proteins. Thus, downstream processing technologies must be able to process a very high volume of feed stream to capture large amounts of proteins from streams containing these proteins in low concentrations. Without this capability, it will not be economically feasible to produce these proteins from such feed streams. This is exactly the sweet spot where the EBA solution is positioning itself within the market.

What is PROMINENT?
The aim of the research partnership PROMINENT is to develop techno-economically and environmentally viable protein ingredients and foods from wheat & rice side streams. Participants in PROMINENT are: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (project leader), Südzucker AG, AB Enzymes, Upfront, United Biscuits, Barilla, Olvi, LUKE and Bridge2Food.

The RESEARCH FOCUS
> Disintegration, fractionation and extraction technologies: bioprocessing, dry and wet milling, air classification, novel extraction solvents, membrane separation, expanded bed adsorption
> Enzymatic and thermo-mechanical methods to improve techno-functional and sensory properties of protein ingredients
> Applications: pasta, biscuits, cakes and beverages.
> Assessment of quality, techno-economic feasibility, sustainability and market potential.
> Designing strategies for marketing, dissemination, and exploitation of innovations.

The PROJECT SCOPE
This 3 year project with a value of € 3.1 Million (2015-2018) has received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 668953− PROMINENT.