CanolaPRO™: High-quality protein from agricultural waste

“In order to feed the growing world population, we need to use the available raw materials in a smarter way.” With that starting point, Gertjan Smolders, together with his team, devised a way to extract high-quality protein from the oilseed rape cake.

Douwe Joustra designed an industrial installation for it. How a Delft idea grew into a factory in France.

“More inhabitants, not more agricultural land. This means that we have to look at the extraction of nutrients in a new way”, says R&D Manager Gertjan Smolders of CanolaPRO ™. The company, located on the Biotech Campus Delft, stems from DSM. “DSM is working on innovative solutions for these kinds of social challenges. Our idea was to extract valuable proteins from the cake that remains when the oil from rapeseed is pressed. This is how we make sustainable use of an existing residual product.” Why rapeseed? Smolders: “We were looking for agricultural flows that are not yet being used optimally and that are available worldwide in a large volume. Rapeseed has the most interesting protein content and type of these streams.”

Cold pressing

It turned out to be a huge challenge. First of all, because the press cake contains many colors and flavors that you do not want in your end product. But also because the proteins lose their functionality as a result of pressing. Smolders: “We wanted a pure protein with a high nutritional value that you can use in many foods. Think for example of meat substitutes, vegetable milk, ice cream, sports nutrition or products for the slim line.” Normally, the extraction of oil from the rapeseed requires high temperatures and solvents. That was not possible now, because the proteins lose their nutritional value. Together with Operations Manager Douwe Joustra, Smolders developed a way to extract the proteins from the rapeseed cake using “cold pressing”.

Protein is in demand

Joustra designed a demo unit to experiment with the press cake on a small scale. This demo unit was then built up in the Bioprocess Pilot Facility on the Biotech Campus Delft and produces a product that is tested by the customers. DSM found a partner in the French company Avril, one of the largest producers of rapeseed oil in the world. “We dissolve the rapeseed cake, purify the proteins from it, concentrate it and dry it into protein powder. What remains of the rapeseed cake after that becomes animal feed”, says Joustra. After years of research and development, the time has now come: DSM and Avril will set up the CanolaPRO joint venture before this summer and will start manufacturing the protein on a large scale. The factory is being built in Dieppe, France, and the head office is on the Biotech Campus Delft. Joustra and Smolders supervise the start-up. “Our protein is already allowed on the American and European market, so we can deliver as soon as the product is available”, says Smolders. That is not a moment too early, because the protein is in demand. “We have already made small quantities of product for potential customers with the demo unit. They have assessed whether the protein is interesting for them”, says Joustra. “That turns out to be the case: the demand is greater than what we can produce now.”

Dream comes true

So the future looks bright for CanolaPRO. “Our goal is not to build one factory, but to start producing worldwide”, says Smolders. “The market is huge, in theory there is enough oilseed rape cake to feed the US twice. “A dream comes true for Smolders and Joustra. “How often does it happen that you can develop a good idea all the way into a factory? It's just great fun!”