Sustainably manufacturing canola protein using novel techniques for fuels, feed and food products

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Canola protein represents a significantly underdeveloped opportunity for Canada’s plant protein industry. Over the next few years, domestic canola crushing capacity is set to nearly double, driven largely by the push across North America toward renewable fuels. While the agriculture industry is excited about the possibility of extracting additional value out of canola oil, it also faces an uphill battle in extracting that same value out of canola meal. Currently, uses of canola meal outside of ruminant feed are limited due to its fibre and antinutritional content. Additionally, with the large additional domestic volumes of canola meal expected to come, the ruminant feed market could easily become oversaturated.

Canada doesn’t just need to find new markets for this meal—we need to create new products from this meal.

One promising product made from canola meal could result from a recent Protein Industries Canada funded project led by AGT Foods. With AGT’s partners Federated Cooperatives Limited (FCL) and ulivit, the project investigates novel methods for protein separation to create a protein concentrate (greater than 60% protein) from canola meal. Building on AGT Foods’ expertise in dry fractionation, this project aims to manufacture canola protein concentrates economically at a large scale, while also being produced with a much lower carbon footprint than existing protein isolation processes.

If successful, this canola protein concentrate would be a compelling product for the aquafeed industry. Aquaculture operations are becoming increasingly sensitive to consumer pressures to switch away from wild-caught fish meal for environmental reasons, as well as prohibitive cost increases in the price of fish meal. Aquaculture feed producers using soy protein concentrate from Brazil are also coming under increasing pressure to find new sources of plant protein, given the challenges of rainforest reduction to produce soy protein and the need for these companies to pursue their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals and strategies. Since canola is produced in a more sustainable way than Brazilian soy protein, a canola protein concentrate could become an effective competitor to soy protein in aquafeed for sustainability reasons.

“Sustainability is one of the core components of our business and has been since we started AGT two decades ago. There is a global race for protein and Canada is an important source of new plant-based proteins for food and feed,” said Murad Al-Katib, President and CEO of AGT Foods. “The opportunity to produce a more sustainable canola protein concentrate out of the millions of net new tonnes of canola meal available across the prairies is a generational opportunity for value creation. We are excited to be driving the commercialization of these protein concentrates for aquaculture and value-added feed opportunities.”

This research builds on the announcement from early this year to build an Integrated Agriculture Complex where food, feed and energy are all co-produced. The centrepiece of this Integrated Agriculture Complex will be FCL’s Renewable Diesel plant, which will produce 15,000 barrels per day of renewable diesel using canola oil and other feedstocks such as animal tallows. To supply this plant, FCL and AGT have announced a joint venture partnership to construct a canola crushing facility that will source approximately 1.1 million tonnes of canola each year. Should this PIC-supported research be successful, a canola protein concentrate plant is likely to round out the complex, providing sustainable fuels and food products all in one location.

“Our Integrated Agriculture Complex represents an opportunity to not only produce cleaner fuels but to diversify and innovate across the agricultural value chain,” said Heather Ryan, FCL CEO. “The ability to utilize canola for a variety of value-added product offerings, including protein, only enhances the overall sustainability of the products we produce and the value we can deliver to Western Canada.”

A canola protein concentrate, sustainably produced at large volumes, is also of great interest in plant-based human and pet foods. A local ingredient with a superior nutritional profile and smaller environmental impact interested ulivit founder Laura Gustafson, whose company is pilot-testing formulations with the prototype product.

“Sustainability is an essential ingredient to ulivit. The opportunity to make delicious plant-based food with sustainable canola protein that is rich in protein and from the prairies is a game changer. This complements our environmentally friendly products that are made with renewable & recycled packaging for minimal effect on the planet,” said Gustafson.

If this research is successful and the vision comes to pass, it will open up new avenues of canola-protein-based products and further develop PIC’s envisioned $25 billion of industry output by 2035.