Agriculture / Agribusiness

Upp Project Extracting Proteins from Upcycled Broccoli Gets £800K Grant from UK Government

A UK consortium led by upp, a broccoli harvesting and protein specialist, has been awarded an £800K grant from the UK government for a project to accelerate the development of low-cost, low-impact, highly nutritious protein from upcycled broccoli

“The global demand for plant proteins is growing significantly”

In cooperation with the James Hutton Institute and Agri-EPI Centre, the SusProt Project targets 80% of currently unharvested broccoli crop biomass, such as the stem and stalk, to extract proteins and ingredients for plant-based foods.

The Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) selected the consortium’s project at UKRI’s Transforming Food Production Challenge

A field post harvesting
A field post harvesting – Image courtesy of upp

Sustainable food from waste

David Whitewood, co-founder and CEO of upp, commented:  “We’re delighted to have won this grant and to be working with some of the UK’s best AgriFoodTech teams to deliver this project. The global demand for plant proteins is growing significantly, driven by a strong consumer demand for healthier nutrition and sustainable food.”

The SusProt project targets two of agriculture’s most significant challenges: reducing crop wastage and decarbonising protein supply. 

“Broccoli waste is just as nutritious and healthy as the broccoli heads we buy at the supermarket

DEFRA figures show that 600,000 tonnes of broccoli biomass go to waste in the UK, including the ugly heads that do not meet supermarket’s strict standards. Moreover, broccoli protein is four times less carbon intensive than pea protein and has less ecological and social impact than soy — the most used plant for protein.

“Broccoli waste is just as nutritious and healthy as the broccoli heads we buy at the supermarket, this project aims to ensure that broccoli is no longer ‘growing to waste,'” Whitewood added.

Producing upcycled broccoli protein
© upp

Everybody wins

Upcycled Plant Power (upp) was founded in 2022 by David Whitewood, Martin Stace, and leading organic farmer Pollybell Farms to produce ingredients from crop waste.

The company has developed unique broccoli harvest technology that uses cameras and machine learning to detect when the plants are ready for harvest. A tractor-towed tool, which can replace seven workers, then harvests the plant and separates the head.

In January, UPP received £500K in funding from Elbow Beach Capital to further develop its AI-powered broccoli harvesting technology.

Fresh green broccoli on orange background
©New Africa-stock.adobe.com

The renowned James Hutton Institute, often called the MIT of AgriTech, will deliver its expertise in crop valorisation, phytochemistry, food, and nutrition.  Agri-EPI Centre, established as part of the UK government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, will provide life cycle and sustainability analyses, including water, energy use, and GHG emissions, and offer evidence-based environmental benefits. 

The SusProt consortium already works with leading food companies Samworth Brothers, Innocent Drinks, and Lees of Scotland. They will test and evaluate the proteins and other extracts for use in their products.

Professor Derek Stewart, director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute, commented: “There is compelling evidence that eating brassicas like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of the major degenerative disease. 

“Fortifying food with clean protein and ingredients from crop waste is an easy win for farmers, food producers and end users, and this project should help deliver that win.”

The project will end in December next year and will evaluate the potential to extend to other unused primary crops.

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