Bühler unifies the protein value chain with the launch of Protein Application Center

Bühler and Endeco have unveiled a cutting-edge Protein Application Center in Uzwil, as part of the company’s expanded food innovation capabilities.

The center completes the technology solutions necessary to go from pulses or grains to finished consumer products, such as dairy or meat replacements, or for intermediate ingredients, such as proteins, fibres, or starches.

With dry and wet processing options for plant proteins, Bühler now offers solutions to its customers covering the whole protein value chain – from field to consumer products. Customers will be able to develop and validate their ideas in protein processing to produce plant-based foods, such as meat substitutes and beverages.

The application center also brings technology solutions to address the growing importance of maximising the value of the side streams generated in the food industry.

“Bühler has been striving to offer customers a complete range of solutions in the field of protein. With the new center, we have taken a major step and can increase impact in terms of efficiency, sustainability, and food safety,” says Andreas Risch, head of business unit special grains & pulses at Bühler. “Now we can confidently tell our prospective customers that they can bring their raw material like peas, or beans, and together, we will develop a juicier burger, tastier bar, better and authentic cheese or beverage.”

The Protein Application Center spans an area of 300 square meters. The center offers customers testing facilities on a small and larger scale. Customers can test their ideas on a small but highly flexible processing line with capacity of 1 kilogram per hour (kg/h), can also validate their ideas on the industrial-size production line with an infeed capacity of 200 kg/h, optimising the manufacturing process to scale production. In both processing lines, a wide variety of raw materials, such as pulses, grains, and other protein sources, can be split into their major components – protein, starch, and fibre.

Collaborations have made it possible to combine expertise and cutting-edge technology under one roof. Bühler and endeco have made rapid progress in their partnership, officially announced in 2022. The exchange started in 2021 with a first meeting between Andreas Risch and Karl-Heinz Bergmann and his team at endeco. The potential for deeper collaboration was immediately evident and this is now manifested in the new Protein Application Center. The success story of the two partners is emblematic of the rapid rise of pulses as a sustainable and healthy source of protein.

Endeco has spent almost two decades building the perfect process for protein isolation, which is now successfully integrated into Bühler’s Application & Training Center landscape.

The Protein Application Center offers two different processes of protein isolation. The classical means of protein isolation is based on an isoelectric precipitation process and realised with the use of decanter centrifuges. Flottweg, a company that has been developing and producing high-performance decanter centrifuges, separators, and plants for solid-liquid separation for more than 60 years, is Bühler’s partner for that technology.

An alternative process of protein isolation is membrane fractionation. Swiss company MMS, another technology partner at the Protein Application Center, brings a strong track record of solving complex separation and fractionation challenges in the food and bio pharma industries. Its expertise in membrane technology enables the production of components with superior functionality, sensory, and nutritional benefits.

The membrane isolation using ultrafiltration technology available at the center allows the separation of valuable parts without denaturation or loss of properties of the native ingredients. This leads to the production of highly functional proteins while having an increased yield and purity.

Customers can also test processes and develop new products in dairy alternatives, such as vegan drinks, yogurts, and cheeses, in a dairy application line, part of the small testing facility. In addition, the valorisation of the co-produced side streams of starch and fiber will be a major research topic in the new test center.

“The Protein Application Center brings together vanguard technologies and a team of experts who know the customers’ needs and challenges,” says Tom Heintel, head of the Protein Application Center. “Together, we can support customers to develop groundbreaking products, and keep succeeding in their markets.”

Katarina Slettengren, scientific lead of the Protein Application Center, explains: “At every point in the process there is still a huge potential for optimisation, as sustainability is always an integral part of Bühler’s process development. This means we are searching for the most efficient processes with the lowest footprint. Together with our sustainability team we can offer quantification and reduction opportunities of our customer’s industrial footprint.”

The Protein Application Center is a key link in the development of protein-based finished products, such as healthy snacks, plant-based meat, protein bars, and high protein pasta. It operates in collaboration with the other Application & Training Centers of Bühler’s food innovation hub in Uzwil.

In the upstream stage, the Protein Application Center collaborates with Bühler’s Grain Innovation Center (GIC), where the customer can test and develop cleaning, sorting, grinding, sifting, and dry fractionation process technologies for multiple grains and seeds, such as wheat, durum, rye, corn, and pulses. At the GIC, dry processing technology to generate protein concentrates will be available to customers after the facility’s renovation is completed, by the end of 2024.

The combination of the Protein Application Center and the Extrusion Application Center enables the direct connection from wet-separated proteins into an extrusion system. This helps to find novel and more sustainable processing solutions from the field to the fork, with the development of delicious veggie burgers, vegetarian chicken chunks or nuggets, and much more.

Furthermore, extruded products like cereals, protein crisps or flakes can be processed into cereal bars in the Food Creation Center and coated with chocolate, created by Bühler’s experts in the Chocolate Application Center.

Plant-based proteins are one of the main levers to achieve a more sustainable food production system. 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.

“The Protein Application Center gives our customers the unique chance to address this opportunity, exploring and creating the next generation of food ingredients for meat and dairy alternatives while addressing the entire protein value chain in collaboration with all the other Application & Training Centers in Uzwil,” says Ian Roberts, CTO of Bühler.

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