Clean technology, at every step in the process

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There are many ways a company can go about growing and ensuring its environmental sustainability. When it comes to plant-based food and ingredient processing, one of the most significant is utilizing technology that’s as clean as possible.

“Avena Foods Limited specializes in crops and processing methods that have low environmental impact,” Avena Foods Limited CEO Gord Flaten said. “Our dry milling techniques require lower energy than other processing methods. In addition, we specialize in whole grain products, which create nearly zero product waste with by-products being up-cycled into useable ingredients.”

This idea of “clean technology” extends beyond in-facility machinery and processes. Flaten described ways in which farmers’ production practices and even the types of crops they grow contribute toward a product’s description as clean-tech. This includes the use of precision agriculture and the growing of sustainable crops, such as pulses and oats.

Jim Millington, CEO of Canadian Protein Ingredients Ltd. (CPI), agreed, explaining that CPI considers clean-tech to appear at every step of its processing method. This starts with its soybean inputs, which he said have more usable protein per acre than other crops, includes its waste-reducing processing technology and ends with its bio-based plastic packaging.

“We have researched and developed a process for developing and extracting the protein from soybeans which is environmentally friendly, which is a proprietary process, but it will produce a clean-label soy protein isolate,” Millington said. “We’re developing this industry in Canada, and it fits into the idea of being close to home. We can have a smaller carbon footprint because of less shipping to our customers.”

Both Flaten and Millington cited research as being an important step in both discovering and using appropriate crops and clean-tech to achieve their sustainability goals. This research has been beneficial to both companies. They’re not only seeing significant steps forward in their sustainability goals, but also in projects with other Protein Industries Canada members.

The Avena team has developed a range of functional pulse flours using their proprietary tempering process, with their first products already on the market and more to come as the project progresses. While CPI is further out from commercialization, Millington said pilot runs of their ingredient processing have been successful, and he expects this trend to continue.

The collaborative approach of their projects, each said, has been a significant contributor toward their success.

“The people that we have in the collaboration, each bring a level of expertise in their specific area,” Millington said. “We’re bringing the whole supply chain into one project, or one business. And I think that’s novel in Canada, because, typically, agriculture does agriculture and food does food, and this project is really bringing agriculture and food together in a cohesive partnership.”

Flaten agreed, adding that Avena’s partners have been critical in identifying how their ingredients are best utilized while maintaining their sustainability and clean-tech efforts.

“The Protein Industries Canada consortium is proving hugely supportive in guiding and carrying out research and development,” he said. “As we discover the most effective parameters to use for specific products, we continue to adapt and refine our ingredients to find the best solutions for each partner. Through these partnerships, we are more quickly finding out which ingredients, or combinations of ingredients, work best for specific product formulations.”

Their clean-tech success so far won’t mark the end of either company’s sustainability efforts. Millington explained that CPI is looking forward to choosing a facility site that has a renewable energy source such as hydroelectric power, particularly in either Manitoba or Quebec. Avena, meanwhile, has initiated a Field to Market Canada innovation project, which tracks sustainability outcomes of both pulses and oats and supports regenerative agriculture initiatives.

“Without quality grains and seeds, we would not be able to effectively exploit the functional properties of pulses,” Flaten said. “Our sustainability platform ultimately increases the value added to Canadian raw materials and benefits everyone in the supply chain, from the farmer to the end-user.”