Meeting the challenges of tomorrow with new food systems
Under its programme, “Bioeconomy Innovation Areas”, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the NewFoodSystems innovation area, Federal Minister Anja Karliczek announced. NewFoodSystems is coordinated by the Max Rubner-Institut (MRI) in close cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV), amalgamating more than 50 partners in research, business and society. The project will develop and test novel production and cultivation methods for the sustainable production of food, aspiring to the highest levels of safety and quality as well as consumer acceptability in developing it to market maturity. Over a period of five years, the BMBF is providing funding of up to EUR 20 million.
‘The bioeconomy is the future of our economy. It enables us to use and recycle resources sustainably,’ said Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek. She noted that research was already generating many good ideas for managing a successful transition to a bio-based, sustainable economic system. ‘I believe it’s important that these ideas soon become part of people’s everyday lives in Germany. That’s why we’re bringing together partners from research, business and society in the new funding initiative “Bioeconomy Innovation Areas” where they’ll turn ideas into innovations,’ the minister explained.
By introducing new methods and using novel sources, food and ingredients for animal feed will be produced which combine maximum added value with resource-friendly production and thus reconcile the needs of people and the environment. To this end, experts from all sectors of the value-added chain will work together in a network. ‘The unique thing about NewFoodSystems is that it employs a holistic approach to evaluation which considers quality and safety on an even playing field with efficiency, marketability, consumer acceptance, sustainability and the legal framework,” said the coordinator, Professor Sabine Kulling (MRI).
NewFoodSystems attends to three fields of innovation:
Controlled Environment Cultivation (CEC)
The focus here is on cultivating organisms such as plants, algae, insects and fish in closed systems which are thus controllable. CEC means new, premium-quality plant products can be produced in closed systems independent of weather conditions, generating several harvests every year without using pesticides, whilst recovering water and nutrients from residues and waste products. New sources of protein for producing food and animal feed as well as other high-quality ingredients like special fatty acids, carotinoids and other dyes as well as aroma components and dietary fibre will be explored.
New food and animal feed ingredients
Looking at the impact of our consumption on the environment, the future will require us to significantly reduce our consumption of animal-based food and increase the availability of more sustainable alternatives. New foodstuffs tend to be all the more acceptable if they are very similar to traditional foodstuffs in terms of taste, texture and mouthfeel as well as nutritional and enjoyment value. The necessary ingredients, such as proteins and protein combinations, must therefore have very specific techno-functional properties, be appealing to the senses and high in biological value. These are research and development topics in this field of innovation.
Resource-efficient energy and material flow management in system integration
By combining novel production systems for plants, algae, insects and fish, the aim is to create food chains and material flows that are so efficiently coupled that they eventually lead to CO2-neutral food production. The carbon dioxide generated by fish or insects, for example, can be channelled into the production of algae; the nutrients dissolved in the wastewater from aquaculture can be used to fertilise plants and microalgae. This field of innovation will simulate material cycles and work on new sensors and process control for automating food production. To increase the energy and resource efficiency of the new food systems, the food industry’s subsidiary flows will be recycled with the aim of closing the cycles. At the same time, this will contribute to the greatest possible reduction in the avoidable loss of resources as well as to minimising environmental contamination.
An innovation hub for market development and societal acceptance of technology
In order to quickly turn research results into marketable products and processes, the innovation hub will test their exploitability and optimise project exploitation processes. Marketable ideas will be identified and evaluated on their economic potential together with start-up experts and industrial partners and then introduced onto the market by start-ups or established companies. ‘We are particularly concerned that good ideas should quickly be turned into innovative products and services both to increase our industrial partners’ competitiveness and to make people in our country more aware of the point of research,’ said Dr. Peter Eisner of Fraunhofer IVV, who is driving innovation and cooperating closely with MRI on coordinating NewFoodSystems.
The projects funded under the NewFoodSystems innovation area will enhance consumers’ knowledge and understanding of alternative systems of future food production. For this specific purpose, an exhibition will be mounted at the German Museum in Nürnberg, which is scheduled to open in 2020. NewFoodSystems wants to enter into conversation with the public and help to overcome barriers to acceptance. This is particularly important to Professor Hannelore Daniel, long-serving member of the Federal Government’s Bioeconomy Council and ambassador for NewFoodSystems. The initial funding period of five years will be followed by a consolidation phase scheduled to last 10 to 15 years so that the topics and technologies can continue to be developed with potential new partners.