Kent partnership secures Bezos funding to create sustainable food solutions

Emily Collins

Kent has partnered with Imperial College London to secure $30 million in funding from the Bezos Earth Fund to launch a Centre for Sustainable Protein which will transform global food systems from environmentally damaging to innovative by creating sustainable solutions.

The Bezos Centre for Sustainable Protein, launched on Monday 24 June, will develop innovative and evidence-based solutions through the design, delivery, and commercialisation of alternative food products that are economically and environmentally friendly, nutritious, affordable, and tasty.

Traditional animal-based protein production requires extensive land use and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions so it is vital that society transitions away from relying solely on these approaches for our global protein needs. However, widespread acceptance and uptake of alternatives proteins relies on improvements in their quality and price, as well as reductions in cost and energy use. To transform these proteins into healthy and tasty food, other components also need to be produced more sustainably and efficiently, such as healthy fats and carbohydrates and aspects like flavour, aroma, colourants, and vitamins. This is where engineering biology comes in.

The Centre will draw on the expertise of academics in the Schools of Biosciences and Chemistry and Forensic Science at Kent to advance research into precision fermentation, cultivated meat, bioprocessing and automation, nutrition, and AI and machine learning to accelerate the development and scaling up of new bio-based processes.

The Bezos Earth Fund is providing the funding as part of a $100 million commitment to developing sustainable protein alternatives and expanding consumer choice and an overall $1 billion commitment to food transformation. It’s one of multiple Earth Fund Centres working with other institutions and industry partners to develop and commercialise new alternative protein products to give consumers more choice for meat and dairy products.

Kent will contribute to the Centre as a member of the Growing Kent and Medway consortium, one of three spokes to Centre’s hub at Imperial, which will benefit from being part of a network of 65 international partners spanning cutting-edge research and innovation to commercialisation of new products.

Professor Alessia Buscaino will lead the University of Kent’s research programme to develop a novel fungal platform for sustainable food production, building on the work of the Kent Fungal Group based at the university.

Alongside doing fundamental scientific research, Dr Rob Barker will co-chair the Sustainability Impact Unit for the Centre, which will convene industrial partners and international experts to work towards a standardised model for environmental impact assessments for all protein production approaches, ensuring a transparent communication of sustainability credentials alongside all products and processes that are developed.

The launch of the Centre comes just a few months after Kent and other university and industry partners secured £14 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to establish a Microbial Food Hub at Imperial which aims to develop novel fermentation-based food that is better for the environment, more resilient to climatic or political shocks, and that gives consumers healthier and tastier food.

Professor Buscaino, Kent’s Lead for both the Centre for Sustainable Protein and the Microbial Food Hub, said: ‘This is an exciting opportunity for the University of Kent to contribute significantly to the future of sustainable food production. Our expertise in fungal biology and fermentation technologies will be crucial in developing innovative solutions to global food challenges. We are eager to collaborate with our partners and make a real impact on creating environmentally friendly, nutritious, and affordable food alternatives’

Dr Barker, Kent’s Co-Lead for both the Centre for Sustainable Protein and the Microbial Food Hub, said: ‘We’re delighted to be involved in these projects, building on our expertise in biotechnology, fungal biology and waste valorisation to develop novel protein sources that can be sustainably produced at scale. The ambition of this Centre is closely aligned to our ongoing commitment to becoming a Right to Food University, working in partnership with the Food Foundation to develop a blueprint for other Universities to follow, using our position as a civic pillar to tackle food insecurity, while promoting a healthy and sustainable food community for our region and beyond.’

Dr Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Earth Fund said: ‘The Bezos Earth Fund is proud to support Imperial as the home of our second sustainable protein centre. By 2050 the world population will be over 10 billion, so now is the time to rethink the way we produce and consume food. This work will help ensure that our future includes more protein options – and that they taste great, are nutritious and come at low cost.’