No one can ignore the urgent need to reduce our global environmental footprint. Climate change, intensive food production, harmful emissions – to name just a few – The awareness also grows on the effect of our company, our customers and even the consumers on all that.
This is why Puratos took off on the ambitious “Mission to Mars” Programme, in which we imagine future settlers on Mars having access to healthy, nutritious bakery products. It involves setting up a cutting-edge research programme 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 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 nutritional, healthy and tasty foods.
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 in four coupled containers, located in the PuraDome, in which 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:
Each experiment has great potential for Planet Earth:
Grow wheat with less water(-5%)
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 5% 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.
Lower use of nitrogen and fertilizers (10x more efficient)
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.
Faster harvest times and higher yield (5-6x in the same spot)
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.
Test new emerging crops
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.
Pollination via nano drones
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.
Optimize energy use
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.
As an alternative to baker’s yeast we will use sourdough, a natural fermentation technology, to improve the bioavailability of nutrients, the digestibility and the sensorial perception of whole wheat bread applications. Developing a robust sourdough that allows the production of tasty and nutritious products will enable artisan and industrial bakers around the globe to use this technology in the diverse environments of their bakeries.
We will search for crops that can complement wheat-based products to balance the nutritional content and protein profile to create applications in line with our daily needs regarding proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.
Our ambition is to look into ways to bring new solutions to customers and lever new technologies to act in the bread-making chain, both upstream and downstream. We strongly believe that this project will help us reduce the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of breadmaking by 30%. This will have an immediate positive impact on the environmental footprint of our customers and end consumers. This way, Puratos as a reliable partner in innovation, will be contributing to make our customers’ business model more sustainable and more profitable.