UZWIL, SWITZERLAND and QUAKENBRUCK, GERMANY — Swiss technology group Bühler AG and the DIL Deutsches Institut for Lebensmitteltechnik e. V., a research institute focusing on food technology and food science, announced on Jan. 11 that they have teamed up to develop new production technologies for healthy and sustainable food products, focusing on alternative protein-based products with a lower environmental impact than the carbon-dioxide-heavy meat value chain.

By 2050, in order to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, farmers will have to produce more food from 35% less agricultural land. With an additional 250 million tonnes of protein required per year, the pressure on alternatives to animal-based proteins is mounting. Given the environmental impact of the current system, there is growing consensus that the food industry must change course immediately.

The change is already underway in many parts of the food value chain, but to drive it faster, partnerships are essential.

Announcing a new strategic partnership between Bühler AG and DIL, Ian Roberts, chief technology officer, Bühler, said: “If we are to feed 10 billion people in 2050 and if we are to be able to do this and mitigate the climate change increase that we currently see, we need to build strong partnerships with purpose and we need to build those in areas where we can drive major impact.”

The partnership to accelerate research and the development of new solutions for more sustainable protein production comes at a critical time, said Volker Heinz, director and chief executive officer, DIL.

“Within our planetary boundaries, there is no room for a further expansion of animal protein and fat production,” he said.

New sustainable plant-based proteins have significantly less environmental impact, less land use, and a lower CO2 footprint than the animal meat value chain. The companies said it is therefore essential to explore and identify alternative and underused sources of protein and develop efficient technologies to convert these into attractive, marketable products. Consumer demand for sustainable and healthy food products has been growing in recent years, underlining the opportunity for the food industry to make a positive impact. 

 The companies noted that a key technology to unlock this opportunity is extrusion. Highly versatile, it enables the formation of texturized proteins with different structures from different raw materials. High moisture extrusion enables the conversion of plant proteins into food products with textures similar to meat. It is a technology in which Bühler is a market leader.

“With Bühler’s expertise in extrusion, but also in other engineering disciplines, such as milling, plant proteins, and powder handlings, we will be able to provide new and customized solutions for our clients and for the rapidly changing market,” said Volker Lammers, head of Research Platform Process Engineering, DIL. “With Bühler, we have a competent partner along the full protein value chain.”

The DIL campus in Quakenbrück, Germany, provides food safety labs, pilot plants and research capabilities. Over 200 scientists and technologists from diverse fields of expertise collaborate with a growing number of spin-off and startup enterprises to develop solutions that improve food safety and quality. 

 “With DIL, we have found a great partner who can provide a food grade test and production lab combined with extensive analytical services,” said Christoph Näf, head of Business Unit Human Nutrition, Bühler.

The partnership will create a platform to support startups, existing customers, and future partners to develop new end products and generate synergies, the companies said.

“We continuously try to achieve a better understanding of the structure and functionality of foods, which we consider is the key to innovative solutions for food processing,” said Volker Heinz, director and chief executive officer, DIL.

“On this track, we are excited to have Bühler as a partner on our side,” he said. “Together we will explore the many possibilities of technological interventions to get our food system on the track towards a sustainable future.”