Transforming Brewery Waste into Protein Powerhouses

beer being poured into glass

Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash

by | Apr 15, 2024

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In a recent study, scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed an efficient protein extraction method from brewers’ spent grain (BSG), transforming a predominant brewery waste product into a valuable resource for the food and cosmetic sectors. This innovation promises to enhance global food supplies and aligns with increasing consumer demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products.

Extracting Protein from Spent Grain

BSG, the solid residue left from malted barley after beer brewing, accounts for approximately 85% of the total waste from the beer production industry, with around 36.4 million tons generated annually worldwide. Traditionally utilized in limited applications such as animal feed and compost, a significant portion of BSG remains in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

The NTU team, led by Professor William Chen, Director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology (FST) program, has introduced a method to extract up to 200 grams of protein from every kilogram of spent grain. This protein is safe for human consumption and is also of high quality, suitable for enhancing plant-based foods and dietary supplements.

To extract the protein from the leftover grains used in beer brewing, the researchers first cleaned them thoroughly. They then introduced Rhizopus oligosporus, a type of fungus also used in making tempeh, a soy-based dish popular in Southeast Asia. This fungus helped break down the grains’ tough structure over three days of fermentation, making it easier to get to the protein inside.

After fermentation, the grain mixture was dried and ground into a fine powder. This powder was then put through a sieve and spun in a centrifuge to separate the protein. The protein, lighter than other components, floated to the top, making it easy to collect. Extracted protein can then be added to various foods to increase their protein levels or used in lotions and creams to enhance their moisturizing and antioxidant effects.

Professor Chen explained that this method creatively reuses the waste from beer brewing as a valuable protein source for nutrition worldwide. It transforms what was once considered trash into a crucial resource, representing a sustainable solution to potential global protein shortages. This process reflects NTU’s leadership in food technology and its dedication to solving real-world issues with innovative and forward-thinking solutions.

Implications for Food Security and Eco-Friendly Cosmetics

Incorporating BSG protein into plant-based foods could substantially increase their nutritional value, fulfilling many individuals’ daily protein requirements. This is particularly critical as the global population and meat consumption are projected to rise sharply, potentially leading to protein shortages.

The antioxidant-rich BSG proteins could also prove beneficial to the cosmetic industry, providing a sustainable alternative to harmful chemicals like parabens and petroleum-based ingredients. These proteins can be used in skincare products, extending their shelf life and improving their environmental footprint.

Industry Reception and Future Prospects

The initiative has received positive feedback from several industry stakeholders, highlighting its potential to lessen Singapore’s reliance on imported raw materials and foster more nutrient-dense plant-based food options. This development is part of NTU’s broader commitment to addressing environmental challenges and enhancing food security, aligning with the strategic objectives in the NTU 2025 plan.

The collaboration with industry giants like Heineken Asia Pacific underscores the scalable potential of this technology to make significant impacts across various sectors. From reducing waste to pioneering new product developments in both food and cosmetics industries, scientific ingenuity can convert waste into a substantive, beneficial resource, furthering environmental sustainability and economic viability in tandem.

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