QUT researchers have been awarded $2.1M for a project to develop advanced technologies to expand Australia’s production of exotic and native mushrooms to meet growing domestic demand.
The project is funded through the Future Food System CRC and industry partner Kenon Corporation, Queensland’s largest exotic mushroom producer.
Project lead Associate Professor Zhanying Zhang, from QUT School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering and Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, said Australia’s mushroom market relied on expensive imports with limited availability.
From left: Yiman Sun, Dr. James Strong, Kenon Corporation director Simon Tang, Associate Professor Zhanying Zhang
Co-researchers are Dr. James Strong from the QUT School of Biology and Environmental Science and Professor YuanTong Gu and Yiman Sun from the QUT School of Mechanical, Medical, and Process Engineering.
“There is a strong demand for locally produced exotic mushrooms because of the significant health benefits they offer to humans,” Professor Zhang said.
“We will also source and develop Australian native mushrooms to reduce reliance on imported mushroom varieties and potentially lead to the development of new Indigenous industries for remote communities.
“We propose the use of small-scale and mobile production modules with small spatial footprints to give growers more flexibility to grow different varieties under controlled conditions.”
Professor Zhang said that while streamlining cultivation, harvesting, packaging, and distribution could help reduce costs and prices, the development of new technology to enable year-round production was key to reducing dependence on imports.
“Australian mushroom growers rely on an overseas supply of pre-inoculated mushroom growth bags, which limits food security and sovereignty,” he said.
“To address this issue, we will develop local capability in producing mushroom liquid seed culture preparation methods to enable automation and large-scale production of mushrooms.
“This project will investigate the use of Australia’s abundant biomass and organic waste to create the substrate for mushrooms to grow on, which will lower the risk of supply chain disruptions, such as those that resulted from COVID-19, and generate revenue for primary industries.
“This also solves waste disposal problems for the food and beverage industry.”
Professor Zhang said the key to expanding the country’s mushroom industry was to add value and diversify into products such as bioactive extracts and meat-like products to create a new food manufacturing industry in Australia.
“Replacing or supplementing animal meat products with mushroom-based, meat-like products can help reduce the carbon footprint generated by the livestock industry.”
Kenon Corporation director Simon Tang said they considered QUT as their strategic partner.
“We are excited to collaborate with Professor Zhang and the QUT team to achieve our business goals,” Mr. Tang said.