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KTH-researcher recieves Formas-grant for food project

Christofer Lendel. Foto: Peter Ardell, KTH
Published Dec 12, 2023

Christofer Lendel and his research group at KTH are studying how proteins can be used as building blocks in new types of materials. It can range from artificial silk and environmentally friendly plastics to building meat-like structures from plant proteins. Now, his latest project has been granted SEK 3 million from Formas.

– This grant feels extra fun to recieve as it confirms that our research has the potential to contribute to the food production of the future, Christofer Lendel comments.

Lendel's background is in molecular bioscience, and since 2015 his focus has been primarily on how to build larger structures from proteins, which are a very special type of polymer. 

- It soon became apparent that an important class of materials are those that can be eaten and that there is a great need for new knowledge in this area, says Lendel.

The food industry is in a phase of development where great efforts are being made to change to sustainable production and to adapt to new consumer patterns. The rate at which new products are being launched as part of the 'protein shift', where animal products are being replaced with plant-based alternatives, is staggering. These new products cover the whole range of traditional animal food products, but the general acceptance of them is relatively low, partly because the taste experience is not equivalent. 

Did you know?

The term "protein shift" is relatively new and refers to a transition from animal to plant-based proteins and products. In order to implement a sustainable protein shift, not only is an understanding of how different foods affect our environment and climate required, but access to more products that are both nutritious and appealing is also needed.

Knowledge of the 'material properties' of food and how to control texture, taste and nutrition is becoming increasingly important to replicate familiar products with new raw materials. Proteins are key ingredients in many food products, not only from a nutritional point of view but also for texture and mouthfeel. Knowing how to build new structures from sustainable plant proteins will be a central part of the future food industry. 

 One way to change the structural properties is to allow proteins to form nanofibrils. These nanofibrils show great promise as food ingredients, although the current processes for producing them are not optimal for the food industry. The project hopes to develop production processes that require less energy, provide higher yields and allow the properties of the nanofibrils to be controlled with greater precision. 

 - It’s important to make this research visible outside of KTH as we have not traditionally had a food profile. KTH FOOD is a good network for those of us who work with different aspects in food, and it facilitates new collaborations and joint projects, says Christofer Lendel.