Knowledge for a sustainable world

Joshua Muhumuza

NRI has secured funding to develop a plant-based meat alternative from spent grain waste from the brewing and distilling industry. The BSG4PROTEIN project is supported by the environmental charity, Hubbub, through their ‘Eat It Up fund’. Eat It Up is designed to facilitate innovators to find creative solutions to tackling food waste. The fund is financed through the Starbucks 5p cup charge which is applied each time a customer chooses to use a single use cup. The project is led by NRI’s alternative protein expert Dr Parag Acharya, Dr Micael De Andrade Lima, a lecturer in Food Innovation, and NRI’s food loss and waste expert Prof. Tanya Stathers.

NRI aims to upcycle spent grain via an industry partnership with a local company to create a meat alternative burger prototype. The project combines shelf-life studies and eco-innovative extraction of brewer’s spent grain protein – BSG protein – to formulate a plant-based meat equivalent, making it a comprehensive approach to addressing food waste and sustainable food production. Shelf-life studies are assessments meant to determine the safe and durable life or "best before" date of a pre-packaged food. They help generate evidence showing that the food will remain wholesome, palatable and nutritious until the end of its durable life.

With approximately 36.4 million tonnes generated globally per year, spent grain (SG) is the main by-product of the brewing process, accounting for 85% of the total brewing waste material produced. Despite being rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre, SG is difficult for humans to digest and has a short shelf life. It is therefore typically used as a low-cost animal feed or as a raw material for biofuel while the rest is discarded. However, there has been growing interest in exploring alternative applications for SG, driven by advancements in processing techniques and the growing recognition of the importance of a circular economy. A circular economy is a model of production and consumption that keeps materials, products, and services in circulation/use for as long possible. It emphasises resource use efficiency, material recovery, recycling and waste minimisation.

NRI intends to valorise spent grain into a high value product by tapping into its high nutrient value and leveraging advancements in spent grain processing technologies.  Dr Acharya said: ‘The BSG4PROTEIN project is an example of a happy marriage between alternative protein production and food waste reduction. If successful, this can help to provide a sustainable plant protein supply for 47 million people at an affordable price.’

This project is another addition to a growing portfolio of innovative endeavours, particularly in alternative proteins at NRI, to increase the sustainability of our food systems and reduce the climate impact of agriculture globally.