Bühler opens new protein application centre

At the protein application centre, customers can develop and validate their ideas in protein processing to produce plant-based foods, such as meat substitutes and beverages

Bühler has opened its new protein application centre in partnership with endeco, as part of the company’s expanded food innovation capabilities in Uzwil. The centre offers the solutions that turn 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 offer solutions covering the whole protein value chain – from field to consumer products. Customers can develop and validate their ideas in protein processing to produce plant-based foods, such as meat substitutes and beverages. The centre also addresses the issue 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,” said Andreas Risch, head of business unit special grains and 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 centre spans an area of 300 sq m. The centre offers customers testing facilities on a small and larger scale. Customers can test their ideas on a processing line with the capacity of 1kg/h, and validate their ideas on an industrial-size production line with an infeed capacity of 200kg/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.

Innovative technologies

The protein application centre 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 centre, 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 centre 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 fibre will be a major research topic in the new test centre.

“The protein application centre brings together vanguard technologies and a team of experts who know the customers’ needs and challenges,” said Tom Heintel, head of the protein application centre. “Together, we can support customers to develop ground-breaking products, and keep succeeding in their markets.”

Katarina Slettengren, scientific lead of the protein application centre, explained: “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 centre 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 and training centres of Bühler’s food innovation hub in Uzwil.

In the upstream stage, the protein application centre collaborates with Bühler’s grain innovation centre, 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 centre and the extrusion application centre enables the direct connection from wet-separated proteins into an extrusion system. This finds 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 centre and coated with chocolate, created in the chocolate application center.

“The protein application centre 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 and training centres in Uzwil,” said Ian Roberts, CTO of Bühler.