Bühler’s new Protein Application Center

Bringing the protein value chain under one roof

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Bühler
Bühler has been striving to offer customers a complete range of solutions in the field of protein

Swiss technology group Bühler recently opened its new Protein Application Center in partnership with Endeco, as part of the company’s expanded food innovation capabilities in Uzwil. 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, fibers, or starches.

This takes the process and product development of proteins to new heights. 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. A topic of growing importance is to maximize the value of the side streams generated in the food industry and the application center brings unique technology solutions to address this.

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, optimizing 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 fiber. 

Rock-solid partnership

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 what used to be a niche, protein isolation. Now, the process is successfully integrated into Bühler’s Application & Training Center landscape, enhancing the technology along the entire plant-based food value chain available to customers. Because of the partnership, Bühler can offer a unique combination of processing capabilities along the entire protein value chain.

Innovative technologies

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 realized 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 valorization 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 optimization, 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.”

One-stop shop for customers  

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 unique 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.

Shaping a sustainable future

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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