‘High value’ protein developed from agri-food side streams: ‘We combine microbes, fermentation, and AI’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Image source: MOA Foodtech
Image source: MOA Foodtech

Related tags alternative protein

Spanish start-up MOA Foodtech is upcycling would-be waste from agri-food side streams into a ‘next generation’ protein for the food industry.

Is it estimated that the global population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050. To feed this many mouths, food production must increase by around 60%, which would require an additional 593m hectares of agricultural land – an area twice the size of India.

At the same time, current agricultural farming methods are unsustainable. The agricultural sector is responsible for 24% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and a significant 80% of global deforestation is associated with agricultural expansion.

“The problem is going to be even bigger in the coming years,” ​warned Bosco Emparanza at start-up accelerator Eatable Adventure’s recent demo day. Already, 75-85% of the world’s agricultural area is used to produce animal feed, and by 2050, protein intake will have increased by 70%, he told delegates.

Together with co-founders Susana Sánchez (CSO) and José Maria Elorza (CFO), Emparanza (CEO) has developed a solution he says could reduce the impact of climate change, feeds society ‘in a healthy way’ and limit deforestation.

Upcycling side-streams

The trio has established a start-up, MOA Foodtech, that transforms food waste by-products, via a fermentation process optimised by artificial intelligence, into a sustainable ‘high value’ protein.

Following up with Emparanza, the CEO told FoodNavigator the product is based on carefully selected microorganisms that efficiently convert agri-food by-products. “One of the keys is the proper selection of the microorganism: capable of using by-products as a substrate, fast-growing and scalable, in order to implement the process at an industrial level,” ​he explained.

Image source: MOA Foodtech

The start-up has evaluated a range of different agri-food by-products from a variety of industries, including sugar, wheat, corn, beer, potato, and fruit, among others. While today, some of these products can be sold off as animal-feed, the rest is discarded, ‘meaning a cost for industry’.

“MOA valorises them. The by-product (inputs) is characterised, conditioned and formulated in growth media for our microbes. Then, with our fermentation process and our microbes, we transform those raw materials into a high value protein ingredient that we introduce again into the industry.”

Emparanza revealed the start-up is also currently evaluating the technological viability of other by-products to generate added-value compounds.

A ‘next generation’ protein

MOA considers its protein to be ‘next generation’, thanks to its sustainability credentials. “Our protein is 100% sustainable because we use side streams from different industries – such as sugar, wheat, corn, beer, and potato – and the process has a lower environmental impact compared to animal derived proteins and even other plant-based proteins.”

Indeed, compared to beef protein, MOA claims its offering uses 98% less water, 99% land, and emits 85% less CO₂.

The protein has a high nutritional value thanks to its components, the CEO continued. As much as 50-70% is made up of protein, and it is a source of beta-glucans, vitamin B, and omega fatty acids.

“In addition, it does not contain toxic compounds, is approved for human consumption, and is GMO-free.”

Concerning food applications, the start-up is targeting the B2B plant-based meat analogue market, as well as dairy alternatives, snacks, and pet food. Further, MOA sees potential in the specialised nutrition space for both athletes and older populations.

Nutritional content aside, the ingredient also acts as a ‘flavour enhancer’, we were told.

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