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Protein in new ways

Aarhus University is part of a new, broad partnership regarding research in and development of a Danish production of proteins for feed, food and pharma.

[Translate to English:] Græs er en potentiel kilde til foderprotein. Foto: Jesper Rais
[Translate to English:] Græs er en potentiel kilde til foderprotein. Foto: Jesper Rais

The Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University is a partner in Dansk Protein Innovation, which is a new, broad partnership of companies and research institutions that will promote Danish production of sustainable products including pharma, and protein for feed and food. The aim is a coordinated effort that will focus knowledge and research funds in the direction that provides most value to the sector.

 Head of the Department of Agroecology, Erik Steen Kristensen, is the representative for CBIO Aarhus University Centre for Circular Bioeconomy in Dansk Protein Innovation. He sees good opportunities in a more widespread cultivation of protein crops in Denmark. 

- It is really quite simple: Perennial crops such as grass and clover can absorb nitrogen and carbon to the benefit of the environment and climate. So there are clear advantages and grass protein can replace soy one-to-one, if the technologies are developed. There are, however, still some hurdles to overcome and the concept is not profitable under present conditions. Further research and collaboration are therefore necessary, says Erik Steen Kristensen. 

Green feed protein from grass

The wide selection of possibilities and the complexity of the work involved in development mean that Dansk Protein Innovation must prioritise its efforts. One of the first areas of action will be to strengthen research and development of extraction of feed protein from grass. This is one of the areas in which Aarhus University, including CBIO, has a strong position.  

The concentrated, biorefined grass protein can be used for feed for pigs and poultry, that are not able to digest grass directly from the field. The residual product that contains less protein, can be used as cattle feed. The grass juice can be incorporated into biogas production and thus complete the circle with regard to recycling nutrients. 

There is still a need for research and development before this becomes a commercial success. The first task of Dansk Protein Innovation will therefore be to formulate a strategy to determine which research and development activities should be set in motion to make grass protein a competitive product. 

Fits like a glove with circular bioeconomy

- With grass protein we are following the circular way of thinking and creating not only one product but several. At the same time, we expect to address several challenges in agriculture. In the first place, we will be able to reduce soy protein import because we will have locally produced protein. In the second place, a side effect will be more grassland, which binds carbon in the soil – and thus CO2 – and reduces the emission of nitrogen to the aquatic environment. This gives good possibilities in relation to the climate and environment", says the chairman of the board of Dansk Protein Innovation Lars Hvidtfeldt. 

The feed industry is already experiencing great interest from Danish farmers who are demanding locally produced protein in their desire for increased sustainability. 

Credit for the environmental and climate benefits that result from growing perennial grass or clover that is then biorefined can help make this a viable business for the whole chain. 

Facts about Dansk Protein Innovation

  • The board consists of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, DAKOFO, Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen, KMC, Arla, Danish Crown, DLF, Inbiom and Technological Institute.
  • The chairman of the board is Lars Hvidtfeldt, who represents the Danish Agriculture & Food Council. The secretariat will be located at the Danish Agriculture & Food Council.
  • Dansk Protein Innovation’s advisory panel is broadly composed of representatives from the food sector, knowledge institutions and other stakeholders.  

For more information please contact:

Head of Department Erik Steen Kristensen, Department of Agroecology, email: erik@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 2091 0371, mobile: +45 2091 0371