Principal Investigator: Dr Green, Harper Adams University
Our vision is to maximise the food potential of UK pasture by using targeted chemical processing and novel biotechnology to convert grass into nutritious edible fractions for healthier and more affordable alternative foods. This will help to make UK agriculture more resilient and sustainable.
Our proposal aims to use novel chemical processing methods to extract the central edible fractions from grass (protein, digestible carbohydrates, vitamins, lipids, fibre) before culturing the yeast Metschnikowia pulcherrima on the cellulosic fraction. Doing this will produce mycoprotein and a lipid suitable as a palm oil substitute.
We can then combine these ingredients in a range of alternative meat and dairy products, displacing environmentally damaging imported ingredients that are currently used. Further processing of the waste products from the process will produce nutrient rich fertilisers and help create a model for future circular farming economies.
When optimised, this process will only need 10 to 15kg of fresh grass (20% dry matter content) to produce 1kg of edible food ingredients, of which approximately 25% would be lipid and 35% protein. While not entirely comparable on a nutritional basis, this represents a tenfold increase in productivity compared to cattle raised for meat, or twice the productivity of dairy cows.
By converting grass into edible food components, a number of advantages are realised, including:
- UK-produced substitutes for palm oil, soya protein, and other imported food ingredients. This has environmental benefits in the UK and abroad. It will provide UK produced healthy nutritional substitutes for ingredients grown on former rainforest sites, while significantly reducing food miles.
- The production of UK food substitutes for over two billion pounds worth of annual food imports, with the opportunity to export significant quantities of surplus produce.
- Improved UK resilience to climate change, as grass is more resilient to flooding and other extreme weather conditions than most other crops.
- Providing a commercially viable non-livestock based market for forage production that would also allow flood-prone arable land to profitably return to meadow grass production.
- The profitable inclusion of grass in arable rotations to help combat blackgrass and other pesticide resistant weeds.
- Limited risk in scaling up as there is no need to invest in new farm machinery. Existing forage equipment and storage facilities will suffice, and the bio-processing technology is mature and already used for many other industrial applications.
- Opportunities for investment in a new UK food industry.
- With the production of more digestible fractions, this project would produce more sustainable, UK-sourced feed for monogastric livestock.
As the process is feedstock agnostic, it should work equally well with wildflower rich pasture grass. This potentially enables the reintroduction of grasslands with greater biodiversity without having an impact on the grasses usability, an environmentally beneficial by-product of the process.
Also, at present in some areas it is uneconomic to build and maintain livestock fencing, resulting in grassland in these regions having little commercial agricultural value. These grasslands will now become commercially viable, and contribute to UK food production.
Initial research suggests that sufficient unutilised grass is available for the P2P process. Therefore, this system should have little or no impact on grass supplies for dairy and livestock farming.