• Precision fermentation is a technology that converts sugars into a range of other food ingredients and products.
    Precision fermentation is a technology that converts sugars into a range of other food ingredients and products.

A $3.9 million project will complete the transformation of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant (MRBPP) into a state-of-the-art food-grade compliant facility, boosting Australia’s ability to produce novel food and beverage ingredients via precision fermentation.

Professor Ian O’Hara, who led the development of the MRBPP more than a decade ago, said the co-investment between QUT and Australia’s Food and Beverage Accelerator (FaBA) would significantly expand the facility’s capability and allow companies to fast-track product development in the food and beverage sector.

O’Hara explained that precision fermentation allowed the manufacture of new high-value food ingredients like proteins that could boost Australia’s bio-economy and provide new domestic and export opportunities for our agricultural and food and beverage industries.

“This project is part of an overall $16 million upgrade to the facility to be completed this year which will transform the pilot plant into Australia’s leading physical containment level 2 (PC2) large scale food-grade research translation facility.

“This will enable the production of novel food and beverage ingredients via precision fermentation and boost product development by providing a unique capability to undertake early-stage scale-up, reducing cost and timeframes for getting new products to market,” O’Hara said.

The QUT research team involved in the project includes O’Hara, professor Jolieke van der Pols, associate professor Mark Harrison and Dr Jo Blinco.

What is precision fermentation?

Precision fermentation is a technology that converts sugars into a range of other food ingredients and products in brewery-style fermentation tanks. Unlike traditional fermentation, which is used to make products such as beer and yoghurt, precision fermentation tunes the microorganisms to produce specific enzymes, fats or proteins and allows us to do this at large scale.

“The advantages of precision fermentation are that it can lead to new food products and ingredients that are not possible to produce through traditional methods, providing sustainability benefits and increasing consumer choice.

“Australia has many of the ingredients for a successful precision fermentation ecosystem, however, while we have the expertise, regulatory and business environment, and position in the Asia-Pacific region, the industry is being severely constrained by a global lack of scale-up infrastructure,” O’Hara said.

Current investments into precision fermentation efforts across the country include New South Wales’ start-up Cauldron, which used a $10.5 million raise in early 2023 to build Asia-Pacific’s largest network of precision fermentation facilities, and Eden Brew, now in the process of relocating from Sydney to Victoria, after reaching its $25 million funding goal for its Series A capital raise, with a sizeable investment from the Victorian government.

Beyond the pilot program

The QUT research team involved in the project includes Professor O’Hara, Professor Jolieke van der Pols, Associate Professor Mark Harrison and Dr Jo Blinco.
The QUT research team involved in the project includes Professor O’Hara, Professor Jolieke van der Pols, Associate Professor Mark Harrison and Dr Jo Blinco.

FaBA director Dr Chris Downs said the accelerator had invested in the pilot plant to enable industry to scale and ensure on-shore production of innovative ingredients. 

“The pilot plant has the potential to help cement Australia’s position as a leader in the development of ingredients from precision fermentation.

“FaBA is delighted that we can invest with QUT to deliver this necessary infrastructure to help grow Australia’s food and beverage sector,” Downs said.

As well as its QUT investment, FaBA is also in progress on a four-year project with The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), and industry partner All G Foods to develop nature-identical proteins for dairy ingredients and products.

O’Hara said QUT’s greatest contribution to future foods globally could be realised across the Asia Pacific region where demand for food is projected to double between 2007 and 2050.

“With limited global precision fermentation capability in the Asia Pacific region, the FaBA investment in the MRBPP presents an enormous opportunity for QUT, Queensland and Australia.”

“The challenges we face to grow more food and produce more energy for a growing population while dramatically reducing carbon emissions are immense,” said O’Hara.

QUT also has a role as a leading infrastructure, research and development alliance partner across the entire FaBA program, with Professor Jolieke van der Pols the co-deputy lead of FaBA’s Innovative Ingredients Program.

“The use of precision fermentation for production of food ingredients is one of the most exciting developments in food innovation in recent years.

“At QUT, we are at the forefront of being able to produce these novel products at scale. It is wonderful that this is now underpinned by funding from the FaBA Trailblazer Program.

“We will continue to work closely with our industry partners to help take products to market nationally and internationally,” van der Pols said.

Federal assistant minister for education, senator Anthony Chisholm, said FaBA’s investment in the facility would enable the industry to achieve its aim of doubling the value of Australia’s food and beverage manufacturing sector by 2030.

“Investing in the QUT Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant won’t just boost the local economy by fostering new high-tech and sustainable manufacturing industries, it will also provide an opportunity to the local workforce in Mackay to upskill and reskill.

“New ingredients such as nutritionally-valuable proteins and oils will not only give Australian consumers more choice on the supermarket shelf, they’ll also be better for the environment and made right here in Australia,” Chisholm said.

In addition to the investments by QUT and FaBA, the Mackay Pilot Plant upgrade is being supported by the Australian and Queensland Governments through the Regional Recovery Partnerships Program and the Queensland Government Department of State Development and Infrastructure through the Industry Partnership Program.

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