14 Dec 2017

Amber van Veghel’s internship project

Revealing the environmental impact of plant proteins

For several months Amber van Veghel worked with us as an intern. Amber has now graduated with a Masters degree in Food Technology from Wageningen University & Research, where she specialised in Sustainable Food Processing. She carried out research into various protein ingredients to provide the industry with valuable information that will help speed up the protein transition. The aim of her internship research project was to obtain a better understanding of the process engineering and environmental impacts of plant protein concentrates and protein isolates from chickpeas, lupins, soy beans and yellow peas.

The resulting data will eventually be used in the Agri-footprint Life Cycle Assessment database. At the moment there is a considerable demand for environmental data on plant proteins to support the growing interest in the protein transition and the development of new and existing plant protein sources.

Environmental data on plant proteins

In recent years Blonk Consultants has carried out various studies into plant proteins, including a baseline assessment of pulses and the development of a plant protein selection chart. Building on these studies, Amber studied the following plant proteins: chickpea protein concentrate and isolate; lupin protein concentrate and isolate; rapeseed protein concentrate and isolate; soy protein concentrate and isolate; and yellow pea protein concentrate and isolate. The study determined the sustainability of the products by means of a life cycle assessment (LCA), which provided insight into the environmental impact across the whole life cycle of the production system for the protein ingredients. Amber collected data from industry experts, literature sources, patent information and brochures. Her study covered the following environmental impact categories: land use, climate change, water consumption, depletion of fossil resources, eutrophication of freshwater bodies and acidification. The study was a ‘cradle-to-gate’ assessment that included the following life cycle phases: Agriculture (crop cultivation, processing before the crops go to the factory (e.g. drying), transport to the factory); Processing (production of protein isolates and concentrates); Drying (of the isolates and concentrates); and Waste (waste treatment of solid and liquid wastes).

Outcome: some conclusions

Amber’s study compares the environmental impact of protein isolates and protein concentrates from different crops. It shows that the environmental impact of protein isolates is greater than that of protein concentrates. One of the reasons for this is that the production of isolates from chickpeas, rapeseed and soy requires a higher crop input. The drying process for the isolates of these crops needs a higher energy input than for protein concentrates. The chickpea concentrates and isolates have the greatest environmental impact, which is due primarily to the relatively low yield per hectare. Data from the study will eventually be added to the Agri-footprint LCA database, giving professionals in the sector access to this information and speeding up the protein transition.

More information

If you want to know more about the environmental impact of plant proteins,
contact Roline Broekema at roline@blonkconsultants.nl or call +31 (0)182 579970.