Skip to website navigation Skip to article navigation Skip to content

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

A page refresh occures when a subject is selected.

Skip article navigation.

In conversation with... Emma Teuling (NIZO food research), Derk van Manen (Duynie Group) and Eelke van der Wal (VanDrie Group)

Animal feed has a major role to play in circular agriculture. Research into the role of animal feed is becoming increasingly relevant from the perspective of nutrient efficiency, reusing raw materials and reducing impact in the production chain. Of all the raw materials that go into animal feed, the vast majority aren't fit for human consumption. Due to improved production processes, however, various residual waste flows are being made suitable for human consumption and these raw materials are finding their way onto the food market, such as whey. As a result of this, the availability of residual waste flows as raw material for feed is decreasing. This was the reason for the VanDrie Group, as member of the Protein Competence Centre (PCC) and cofinanced by the Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie, TKI), to take the initiative to conduct research into making alternative plant-based residual waste flows suitable for calf milk. Eelke van der Wal, researcher at the VanDrie Group, talks with two other members of the research team, Emma Teuling, project manager protein technology at NIZO food research lector in ‘Eiwittransitie in Voeding’ (Protein Transition in Food) at HAS University of Applied Science and Derk van Manen, manager Quality, Nutrition and Research at Duynie Group, about this public-private partnership.

What were the considerations for the VanDrie Group with regard to this research?

Eelke: ‘There were various considerations. For example, we want to reduce the share of raw materials, such as whey powder or low fat milk powder, which is suitable for human food, but is currently used for animal feed. In addition, we want to upgrade the plant-based residual waste flows that are still unsuitable for consumption at present, so that they are made suitable for our applications. In this way, we hope to tap into an attractive alternative raw material source. Of course, we also want to reduce our CO2 footprint further.’

How did you set to work?

Eelke: ‘We started with a long list of plant-based, protein-containing raw materials that offer the potential to be made suitable as an ingredient for calf milk powder. For each raw material, we also looked at the digestibility of the product and at its degree of solubility, so that no sediment arises in the calf milk when diluting it with water. Digestibility and solubility contribute to the preservation of nutrients in the feed.’

Emma: ‘At the beginning during the selection process, we also examined how much of the plant-based residual waste flows are actually available at present. Can we find them in sufficient quantities in Western Europe, are they in stock during the entire year and to what extent will we find ourselves competing with other applications?

Derk van Manen

It is our ambition to create as much possible value from these flows; to utilise them as effectively as possible. 

Derk van Manen

Derk: ‘It is our ambition to create as much possible value from these flows; to utilise them as effectively as possible. When carrying out this research, we looked at products that are easily digestible for cattle, but whose protein fraction is not fully utilised in cattle feed. We try to process the proteins in such a way that they can be given a higher-quality application in the young animal feed.’

What opportunities do you see?

Emma: ‘Within the research team, we have pooled knowledge of proteins, process technology and digestibility among animals. In addition, the collaboration between various companies, knowledge institutions and contract research organisations – where competing parties can work together in this kind of pre-competitive research – is unique in the world. That does happen more often in the Netherlands, but we sometime forget how special such a collaboration actually is. The integration of all these scientific fields and our holistic approach are what makes this a success. That is partly the reason also why the Netherlands is a world leader in protein technology.’

Eelke: ‘We benefit a lot from this form of collaboration. I always describe it as a triangle, with a knowledge institution, in this case NIZO, a supplier, such as Duynie Group, and ourselves, as a producer. All three of us have both a common and a personal interest. The VanDrie Group is especially interested in finding an answer to a question. We want a solution to the question of how we can further increase the circularity of our feeds. NIZO helps with the knowledge. A supplier wants to supply a product, preferably continuously. And continuity is very much in line with the VanDrie Group.’

Derk: ‘This research ties in seamlessly with the strategy of the Duynie Group to use raw materials as efficiently as possible and to maximise the value of residual waste flows. Above all, our primary need is to ensure that food that is suitable for humans is available and ensure it remains available. Plant-based residual waste flows that are unsuitable for human food can still contribute to food for humans indirectly via animal feed. In order to feed the growing global population, it is a case of ensuring that livestock will gradually compete less with humans for food. That is also why this research initiated by the VanDrie Group with the aim of reducing the use of foods as raw materials is so relevant.’

Does this research tie in with a trend, or is it quite unique?

Emma: ‘In the Netherlands, we are working on a National Protein Strategy with a broad agenda. Our research forms part of an important theme, namely the complete valorisation of plant-based side streams to replace animal proteins. That is precisely what we all of us want to work on, in addition to the points that Derk and Eelke mentioned. It has a broader benefit.’

Our research forms part of an important theme, namely the complete valorisation of plant-based side streams to replace animal proteins.

Emma Teuling
Emma Teuling

What dilemmas are you coming up against in this research?

Emma: ‘In my role as protein technology project leader, I mainly see technical dilemmas. The proteins in the residual waste flows we have studied are a bit more difficult to work with. That may be because the protein is confined within a cell. That is a physical problem and is not so complicated to solve – you simply open up the cell. It becomes complicated, however, when the protein forms part of a cell component, such as a cell wall. In that case, you really have to take it apart and then there is a significant risk that the protein will also be damaged by that and become unsuitable as a nutrient.

And finally, you can increase the protein availability with the perfect technologies, but if the product has an unpleasant taste, it will not be accepted by the animals and you still will not have achieved your goal.’

Derk: ‘My most important dilemma is the cost aspect. In other words, what does it cost to make those proteins available? I also believe it is important to find out how digestible the products will ultimately be and whether the calves will start performing better. However, this collaboration is answering those questions.’

Eelke: ‘My most important dilemma is the added value of the energy consumption versus the improved usability of the nutrients. That fact that products are suitable from a nutritional perspective is one thing, but, in order to subsequently use it as a sustainable raw material, proteins from these products must be available in return for minimal energy consumption. That can be quite a challenge if you still have to take processing steps.’

Does this research also help to combat food waste?

Eelke van der Wal

Derk: ‘We need to make our production chains more sustainable. One of the reasons for this is the fact that an increasing number of mouths need to be fed. We have a certain amount of biomass and we should be aiming to use it more and more effectively and efficiently. I wouldn’t say that our research is aimed directly at reducing food waste, but it does play a part in ensuring that the resources that the Earth offers us are utilised more efficiently.

We will continue working on this type of research into maximising residual waste flows and therefore on combating waste. 

Eelke van der Wal

Eelke: ‘It may well be the case that we learn a lot, but do not yet find a solution to our problem. That can happen. However, we will continue working on this type of research into maximising residual waste flows and therefore on combating waste. Each project brings us one step closer to achieving this objective.’

The research under discussion, entitled ‘Mild processing of protein-containing, plant-based side streams for feed applications’, is being conducted by the VanDrie Group, Duynie Group, NIZO food research, Wageningen University & Research, Van Hall Larenstein and Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen.