Suiker Unie officially took its Green Protein Demo Plant into operation on October 10 and started producing protein from sugar beet foliage. The production process is a unique, pioneering method that Suiker Unie can use under an exclusive license. The first 100 kg of protein, which can be used as an egg white replacer in confectionery items, will be produced this year.
Through an industrial process, the factory extracts the white powder from the plant leaves creating a product that replaces the egg white. Leaf protein isolate has even better gelation properties than egg white, but it can also be used as a foaming ingredient in cupcakes or merengues.
“It was not developed before because both market and technology weren’t ripe,” Paul Mesters, CEO Suiker Unie explains.
Plant protein sources will be essential to produce enough proteins to feed the growing world population in the future, the producer says.
Green plant leaves contain between 1% and 3% protein. A new process developed and patented by TNO, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, makes it possible to extract the protein. Royal Cosun, Suiker Unie’s parent company, has obtained the exclusive license to use the patent.
The Green Protein Demo Plant will extract protein from sugar beet foliage, and later also from other plant leaves. Every hectare of sugar beet produces between 20 and 30 tonnes of leaves. This amount of foliage is good for between 180 and 280 kg of high-quality protein. “A dark green juice is extracted from the leaves that we can refine and dry in a series of steps to produce a colorless, flavorless and odorless protein powder. The food industry can use this functional plant protein in countless applications, including meat substitutes, cakes, meringues, beverages, sauces, and desserts. Our ambition now that the demo plant is up and running is to take the first large-scale production line into operation by 2022,” explains Paulus Kosters, senior protein program manager at Cosun.
The Green Protein Demo Plant is part of a strategic program launched by Cosun to produce plant proteins. “We want to be a pioneer in this field. We have always worked to get the maximum value out of our crops. Our open innovation center for alternative proteins, which Cosun has opened at Nieuw Prinsenland in Dinteloord, is a perfect example of this and we are inviting other parties to join us in the protein transition,” says Frank van Noord, innovation director.
In December 2018, Suiker Unie acquired the innovative start-up Green Protein B.V. Based in Wageningen, the Netherlands; the company was the developer of this new method of extracting the protein RuBisCo from green leaves.