In meeting the nutritional needs of an ever-growing world population, the food industry applies technology that is for a large part process technology. But with food processing come sustainability issues, in particular in energy and water use. Another concerning aspect of the modern food chain is the difficulty of retaining valuable nutrients. 

The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology is committed to developing knowledge and technology to address these issues and boost innovation enabling a sustainable food supply chain. We focus on the development of relatively mild processes that obtain maximum nutritional value of the final products. We support the improvement of existing technology, but we also develop unconventional approaches, even leading to daring concepts such as using hydrogen as a feedstock for protein production.  

ISPT Theme Food - Agricultural Greenhouse - ©Erwan Hesry

Energy and water 

In food processing, drying and dewatering often is a crucial step, for instance with vegetable and dairy products. Since it is very energy-intensive, an important focus at ISPT is to develop new technologies that use less energy and result in a reduction of COemissions, while maintaining and often even improving product quality. This entails novel drying technologies, technologies for heat recovery and re-use, as well as membrane-based technologies. In addition, the re-use of process water, closing the water cycle, is an important part of the ISPT efforts. Central in our approach is the focus on product and process functionality, material efficiency and economics. 

Novel fractionation approach 

The refining of food requires the extensive use of low-temperature separation technology to extract complex molecules and proteins from various process flows. Often a product is separated in all its single constituents, whereupon a range of precisely defined products are formulated. Although this enables a high degree of control over the composition and quality of the final products, it is not necessarily the most sustainable concept of food processing. As an alternative, ISPT investigates the processing of the agricultural feed stream in view of enriching it with respect to the desired valuable constituents (proteins, starch, etc.). This will lead to a more cost-effective and more sustainable process where less energy is used while retaining many micronutrients that are generally lost in the ‘separate and reconstitute’ approach. 

Closing the nutrient cycle 

An important ISPT effort in food concerns closing the nutrient cycle. This starts with an analysis of nutritional value and cost across the food value chain. Zooming in on N, P, and K nutrients, proteins and micronutrients, and considering all aspects – from the depletion of agricultural acres to the processing of food and the collection of food waste. Together with, amongst others, the fertilizer and food industries, we aim to establish a sound scientific foundation for achieving circularity in this complex matter. 

Relevant programs

The ISPT activities in the Food theme are in particular carried out in the following programs:

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