Bühler looks to membrane and fractionation technology to drive next generation of meat and dairy analogues

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

'We want to strengthen our position in the sustainable plant-based protein space and widen the use of our technology as an opportunity to bring superior quality ingredients to customers in these sectors,' says MMS CEO George Bou-Habib.
'We want to strengthen our position in the sustainable plant-based protein space and widen the use of our technology as an opportunity to bring superior quality ingredients to customers in these sectors,' says MMS CEO George Bou-Habib.

Related tags Buhler alternative protein Meat alternatives Dairy alternatives

As the alternative protein industry looks to new technology and ingredients to fuel growth, the Swiss supplier has unveiled new partnerships designed to improve the taste and texture of plant proteins.

At the group’s Networking Days event at its headquarters in Uzwil on June 27-28, the company said it was aiming to highlight examples of companies that provide tangible impact on mitigating climate change, eradicating poverty, creating employment, protecting and restoring nature, and improving food security.

Bühler announced an innovation tie-up with Swiss membrane technology specialist MMS to drive the development of high functionality ingredients for meat and dairy analogues, which it believes can offer consumers more sustainable options to traditional meat and dairy products. It takes on average four kilograms of plant-based proteins to produce 1 kilogram of animal-based protein, Bühler said, while around two-thirds of agricultural land is already used for livestock.

But better plant protein fractionation -- the process used to separate grains or pulses into fibre, starch and protein to produce protein concentrates/isolates used in dairy and meat alternatives -- is needed to improve the flavour of these products, the company believes.

It has therefore been drawn to Zurich-based MMS’s expertise in membrane technology that enables the separation of valuable components with ‘superior functionality, sensory, and nutritional benefits’. In combination with Bühler’s processing expertise and upstream and downstream technologies for the plant-based protein market, the partnership hopes to provide the opportunity to explore the next generation of meat and dairy analogues. 

“With this exciting technology partnership, we will bring new processes to the market that unlock the next level in terms of product quality, nutrition, and sensory characteristics,”​ said Bühler CTO Ian Roberts. “The plant-based protein market is growing rapidly, and consumers are increasingly looking for high-quality, tasty, nutritious products as a sustainable alternative to meat and dairy. To meet these tough criteria requires ingredients with superior functionality. MMS membrane technology can deliver plant protein ingredients that are both sustainable and of highest quality.” 

The technology is a differentiating solution particularly in the space of sustainable protein, he said, because it allows separation of valuable components without denaturation or loss of properties of the native ingredients. MMS has a track record of solving complex separation and fractionation challenges in the food and bio pharma industries, explained Roberts. What’s more, the non-thermal separation and concentration capabilities remove the need for energy intensive thermal processes and the water used is significantly reduced by recycling. The move is therefore beneficial in terms of helping its customers achieve their sustainability targets. Bühler targets providing solutions to reduce waste, energy and water in its customers’ operations by 50% by 2025. 

Complementary technologies

“There are many complementarities with multiple business segments where Bühler operates and where MMS’s membrane technology could be a part of downstream processing,”​ said Roberts. “MMS is highly specialized in this technology step and shares our spirit for problem solving and innovation. We see them as a powerhouse for multiple applications in the space of liquid-liquid fractionation.”

“By entering the partnership with Bühler, we want to strengthen our position in the sustainable plant-based protein space and widen the use of our technology as an opportunity to bring superior quality ingredients to customers in these sectors,”​ explained MMS CEO George Bou-Habib.

“We specialise in membrane technology and liquid separations so we can split residual fats from proteins; proteins from sugars; sugars and salt from water etc. With our technology, given that we're a small company with Buhler's reach I think we can have real impact in the protein space."

Wet and dry processing expertise combined

Bühler also announced a cooperation agreement with Flottweg, a German company specializing in mechanical separation technology, that aims to complement Bühler’s mechanical liquid-solid separation production processes.

Bühler provides solutions for the upstream and downstream steps of the dairy and meat analogue-making process process, from intake, cleaning, dehulling, and grinding of pulses to extrusion technologies that enable the production of plant-based products with a fibrous texture similar to meat.

Combining Flottweg’s wet fractionation expertise and Bühler’s dry process expertise, they said, therefore allows the two companies jointly to offer integrated solutions and optimized processes with the highest yields, reduced environmental impact, and best quality protein isolates.

Flottweg will integrate its mechanical wet separation technologies for protein such as pea and bean and starch crops such as wheat and maize. Meat analogues based on plant-based proteins require very pure ingredients. With Flottweg’s technology, Bühler claimed, it will be possible to produce products with 90 to 95% protein content.

“With their deep knowledge and experience in mechanical separation, Flottweg is a natural partner for us and will be our preferred partner for integrated solutions for our customers processing sustainable proteins derived from crops. Thanks to their expertise, we can now jointly cover the entire value chain for producing more sustainable plant-based protein for any kind of pulses to wet extrudates and dairy alternatives,”​ said Johannes Wick, CEO Bühler Grains & Food.

Pulses are promising ingredients that provide a good source of protein. They can be used to create tasty breads, pastas, beverages, and meat substitutes. With growing consumer demand for gluten-free and vegan food, demand for pulse flour is predicted to grow by 10% by 2025 compared to 2017, according to Bühler.

“Together with Flottweg, we can increase our offering to our customers in the whole protein processing space, in particular toward protein isolation but also for all the applications where a solid-liquid separation step might be required,”​ added Andreas Risch, Head of Business Unit Special Grains & Pulses at Bühler.

Finally, Bühler also announced a new strategic partnership with German engineering company endeco, which specializes in the design and construction of starch and protein plants. The pair have agreed to build a new Protein Application Center at Bühler’s headquarters in Uzwil to offer customers end-to-end solutions, from bean to burger, including all wet and dry processing.

“Together we can cover the whole value chain,”​ said Wick. “endeco provides the final missing piece for Bühler between the mill and pulse processing. We are already the market leader in dry processing technology. With this strategic partnership, we add expertise in wet processing technology and will be able to offer full end-to-end solutions from bean to burger.”

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