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Upcycling by-products into vegan ingredients

High-Quality Native Protein from Surplus Yeast

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The Swiss company Yeastup AG was founded in 2020 to harness side streams from the food industry for sustainable nutrition. The team led by founders Daniel Gnos and Urs Briner focuses on surplus yeast from breweries in order to extract proteins and dietary fibre from it in a sustainable, energy-efficient circular process. The start-up developed its now patented process to series maturity and is currently working on scaling the process to an industrial scale. At the same time, trials are underway to use the high-quality yeast protein as a functional ingredient in vegan alternatives to animal foods. We spoke to Daniel Gnos about process development, advantages and disadvantages of different protein sources, and the future prospects of fermentation and plant-based products.

Yeastup founders: Urs Briner (left) and Daniel Gnos (right). © Yeastup AG

Yeastup founders: Urs Briner (left) and Daniel Gnos (right). © Yeastup AG

Mr Gnos, why do we need more vegan alternatives to animal foods in the future?

By 2050, an estimated 265 million tonnes of additional protein will be needed to meet the needs of the world's population. Livestock farming is a major contributor to climate change and is responsible for a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meat consumption also has an impact on global deforestation and on land and water consumption. Therefore, high-quality alternative protein sources are needed that have a biological value similar to that of animal proteins, but do not require agricultural resources, arable land and irrigation, and are available in unlimited quantities. Yeast cells are ideal for the circular economy, which is characterised by the longest and most efficient use of raw materials. If material and product cycles can be closed, raw materials can be used again and again, like the water used in our process, which is recovered, purified and recirculated. At the end of the process, a maximum of 2 % of non-recyclable residues remain, which are biodegradable.

And what are the advantages of surplus yeast in particular compared to other non-animal protein sources?

In beer production, about 10,000 tonnes of used yeast are produced worldwide every day, of which up to 90 % is used as animal feed. The nutrient density of yeast is enormous, as it contains high-quality protein and dietary fibre. Our goal is to use this resource directly for the growing protein demand of the world's population, without the energy and resource-intensive diversions via livestock farming with all its ecological side effects. To achieve this goal, we'll extract high-quality alternative proteins and fibres from the surplus yeast on an industrial scale. Our yeast protein Yeastin® has the same nutritional value as animal proteins and offers a complete amino acid profile that differs from other plant-based variants. In a direct comparison, it corresponds to the amino acid composition of whey protein and egg white and even slightly exceeds that of meat and soy isolates. At the same time, it's not of animal origin and does not impact other plant-based foods in terms of resources.

Yeastup extracts protein and dietary fibre for human nutrition from surplus brewer's yeast in a sustainable and energy-efficient circular process. ©Yeastup AG

Yeastup extracts protein and dietary fibre for human nutrition from surplus brewer's yeast in a sustainable and energy-efficient circular process. ©Yeastup AG

How does the ecological footprint of yeast protein compare to other vegan sources?

First of all, yeast must be compared with yeast, and this is where the circular economy approach and the technological treatment of the yeast protein come into play. The products from China and France available on the market so far are made from yeast specially cultivated for the purpose, a clear ecological disadvantage. They are also denatured and insoluble, which means they no longer have any functional properties. The possible uses in industry are therefore very limited.

In order to be able to make further comparisons with animal and vegetable protein, we've carried out a life cycle assessment study together with the University of Applied Sciences of Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in accordance with ISO 14040 ff. This study investigated the environmental impact of protein production from surplus brewer's yeast and its use as an ingredient in burger patties. With these results, we want to show our current and future project partners from the food industry the potential environmental benefits using a global benchmark. A patty with protein from surplus brewer's yeast was compared with a conventional version made from beef and a vegan patty as a benchmark. Yeastin® was shown to reduce the environmental footprint of a 113 g burger patty by 74 to 81 %, depending on the indicator examined.

And how does yeast protein compare to plant-based raw materials?

This was as intriguing as it was ultimately logical: A vegan burger patty made of yeast protein from Yeastup has an even smaller ecological footprint than one made of pea protein. The production of the pea protein had the greatest environmental impact in the case of the conventional vegan patty. In comparison, the environmental impact of the Yeastup alternative was significantly lower for all impact assessment methods, including the substitution of brewer's yeast in its previous use as feed. Thanks to the use of an industrial by-product, we don't need arable land, cultivation, irrigation or pesticides. This is a clear ecological advantage over animal and plant sources. Compared to pea protein, our yeast protein was found to have 81 % less environmental impact, 74 % less greenhouse gas emissions and 80 % less cumulative energy demand. So we should be much more concerned with making better use of by-product streams that are generated anyway.

How do you extract the proteins and dietary fibre from the surplus yeast?

When upcycling the surplus yeast, the delivered yeast emulsion is first standardised and debittered and then the cells are gently disrupted, leaving the released components of the yeast cells largely intact. Subsequently, unwanted flavours must be removed from the brewing process and the ingredients must be purified and fractionated to create a highly pure, odourless and tasteless native protein powder with optimal processing properties and excellent solubility. Another valuable substance are polysaccharides from the yeast cell wall, primarily beta-glucans and mannan, which are particularly interesting for the supplement and cosmetics industry.

The equipment used is commercially available machinery from various industries, which we use and combine for our purposes. Our core innovation is based on a specific combination of process steps for the purification and decomposition of the yeast cells as well as the filtration and extraction of the various ingredients. We extract, clean and dry the fractions and ensure that the ingredients remain functional and the proteins are not denatured. This is the unique selling point of our process. That is why we have patented this continuous and industrially scalable system.

How are you developing your process further and which foods should Yeastin® be used in?

We are mainly working on further optimising our extraction and purification process, scaling up and developing ingredient recipes and compounds to provide food manufacturers with tailor-made ingredient concepts. The extraction of proteins and dietary fibres requires know-how in process engineering and yeast metabolism. That's why we initially concentrated on the process-safe development of the process on a technical institute scale, which gives us a clear competitive advantage in the upcoming scale-up to several 100 kilos per batch. We are currently developing products based on our proteins and fibres in collaboration with leading manufacturers of sports nutrition, meat analogues, dairy alternatives and cosmetics. The focus is on the area of sports and nutrition. Among other things, we are currently developing protein bars. The techno-functional properties in terms of gelling and solubility have also convinced us that we're on the right track and can offer a yeast protein that is currently not available on the market in this form.

How do you see the further development of the industry as a whole?

A lot is happening at the moment, both in terms of research into alternative protein sources and the use of side streams from the food industry. Almost every day, new start-ups present themselves to the public with innovative ideas. From our standpoint, we're experiencing one of the most exciting phases in the food industry, because there's not just one solution for feeding the growing population in the future, but a multitude of possibilities. We believe that by-product upcycling and precision fermentation have enormous potential. The latter offers many advantages over traditional food processing methods, as it enables more sustainable and efficient production. Although there are still some legal hurdles to overcome for the by-products of precision fermentation, and side streams are once again created, it opens up many exciting possibilities. The prerequisite for this is, of course, that the costs are manageable and that the customers are willing to accept ingredients like these.

) Laut einer aktuellen Ökobilanz-Studie verursacht Yeastin® als According to a recent life cycle assessment study, Yeastin® as a protein source for burger patties causes 81 % less environmental impact compared to pea protein. © Yeastup AG

) Laut einer aktuellen Ökobilanz-Studie verursacht Yeastin® als According to a recent life cycle assessment study, Yeastin® as a protein source for burger patties causes 81 % less environmental impact compared to pea protein. © Yeastup AG


Yeastup AG

Daniel Gnos, Founder and CEO

T +41 58 255 33 33