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Bulb grower cultivates duckweed for major research project

A consortium of five colleges – Aeres University of Applied Sciences, HAS green academy, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, and Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen – has embarked on a two-year research project alongside businesses and experts to explore the cultivation and application of duckweed. The cultivation of the duckweed is taking place at a bulb grower in Bovenkarspel in the bins used for cut flowers that remain empty from March to November.

The researchers are investigating how the protein-rich plants can be produced and then processed as a protein source in food products, aiming to contribute to the protein transition that is vital for the food system.

Duckweed-based tortillas? They might just appear in supermarkets soon. The parties involved in the research project 'Sustainable proteins: One more duck' have high expectations for the plant. Feike van der Leij, professor of Health & Food at Inholland University of Applied Sciences: "Duckweed not only has a high protein content but also a much higher yield per hectare than comparable protein sources, such as field beans and soy. The plant grows very quickly. In this project, we are looking for a way to cultivate duckweed on a large scale in the Netherlands, so we are no longer dependent on, for example, soy from the Amazon."

Business Model
The consortium of five colleges is aiming for a competitive cultivation and processing system for duckweed. Eric de Bruin, professor of Circular Entrepreneurship in the Agrifood Sector at Aeres University of Applied Sciences: "Our main goal is to develop a healthy business model that allows us to provide a maximum yield of proteins locally, in a sustainable manner." The research project focuses on the cultivation method, processing of duckweed, its application in food products, and on the spreading of knowledge.

Students are also closely involved in the project. De Bruin: "International students, in particular, are using this project for their internship or graduation project. For example, a student from Nigeria is currently focusing on the cultivation of duckweed. Others are testing pesto with a panel, to investigate its acceptance among consumers."

Bulb Cultivation
Unique to the research project is that it contributes to sustainability in various ways, according to De Bruin. It starts with the cultivation. "We cultivate the duckweed in an existing system of a bulb grower in Bovenkarspel. The bins for cut flowers are empty there from March to November. That is exactly the growing season for duckweed. So, we don't need to build a new factory; the infrastructure is already in place."

During that period of the year, there's no need for additional lighting and heating; the researchers make use of the warmth and light of the season. Another advantage is that the duckweed can be grown in the Netherlands, on a relatively small area. "Duckweed is therefore a much more sustainable protein source than imported soy, or meat," says Van der Leij. "It can really accelerate the protein transition." Besides the bulb grower, eleven other companies are involved in the project, including those specializing in food technology and consumer research.

"Ultimately, we want to process it into various food products," De Bruin and Van der Leij look ahead. "Think of snacks, ice cream, pesto. In about twenty years, that could be completely normal." The project lasts a total of two years. Read here more about the experiences of De Bruin and Van der Leij.

For more information:
Ayella Spaapen
Aeres University of Applied Sciences
Tel: 088 020 6300
[email protected]

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