No one can ignore the urgent need to reduce our global environmental footprint. Climate change, intensive food production, harmful emissions are just a few of the many challenges to tackle. The awareness also grows within our company, with our customers and with the consumers.
This is why Puratos took off on the ambitious “Mission to Mars” Program, in which we imagine future settlers on Mars having access to healthy, nutritious bakery products. It involves setting up a cutting-edge research program and FoodTech Centre, PuraDome, using the harshest conditions of planet Mars as our extraordinary inspiration.
We believe that our discoveries during this experiment will lead to amazing, innovative applications and will help us to continue to provide healthy, nutritious and tasty foods for life on Earth in the future. Through disruptive science and new technologies we will help our customers grow their business in a more sustainable way, by having an overall positive impact on the entire production chain of bread, cake and chocolate.
To bring together various knowledge domains and expertise, the SpaceBakery Consortium was created with several partners. It has a total funding of over 6.3 million euros, including a subsidy of 4.5 million euros from the Flemish government. The Consortium is investigating how to further improve the environmental footprint of growing wheat and the efficient use of energy to produce bread today – and also tomorrow in more challenging environments – while never compromising on nutrition, health and taste.
The environment of Mars, our inspiration, is very different from ours. No oxygen, high concentrations of carbon dioxide, an average daily temperature of -60°C, and dust storms are not the right conditions to grow crops or bake bread. So we are investigating how to efficiently cultivate grains in hermetically closed and fully controlled environments. In practice, our research is taking place within four coupled containers, located in the PuraDome. In these containers the climate can be adapted to make it suitable for crop growth, with optimal use of resources. Here’s an overview of what’s happening in each container:
With less rain and more drought, the usage of water is under pressure. With our hermetically closed system and vertical agriculture, we believe we’ll be able to grow wheat with only a fraction of the water usually required. This technology could also be used in densely populated areas of Earth where farmland is not always available or in regions with extreme temperatures.
Today, farmers apply nutrients on their fields in the form of fertilizers, which provide crops with the nitrogen and phosphorus they need. However, when nitrogen and phosphorus are not fully utilized by the growing plants, they can be lost from the fields and negatively impact air and water quality. We believe we can be 10 times more efficient and lower the use of nitrogen and other fertilizers.
In the SpaceBakery we will be able to investigate and optimize the growing conditions of plants. This could lead to a faster harvest, higher yield and a more qualitative crop with more efficient use of nutrients and no losses due to insects or plant pathogens.
To make bread more nutritious and diversified, we will investigate the possibilities of new, emerging crops. More knowledge about these plants, which can grow in extreme conditions, could help improve breads made of local crops in Africa and other regions.
Wheat reproduces itself with only the help of wind, which is easy to simulate in a closed environment. But the wavelength of the light in the containers makes it impossible for bees to see colours and find the pollen in the flowering crops. Therefore we’ll look into the usage of nano drones for pollination. We sure hope bees will never become extinct as this might mean the end of humanity, but maybe nano drone technology could help our bees survive in the future.
To use energy in the most efficient way possible, we’ll investigate the potential of baking bread through microwave technology and ohmic heating. We’ll explore how to re-use the by-products we create like straw, chaff and the bran, to eliminate waste and contribute to a circular economy with a continual use of resources.