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Biorefineries turn grass into new feed products


Silage made from grass mainly contains fibre but also plenty of protein and sugars. VTT and the Natural Resources Institute Finland are developing and testing methods that will be used for producing feed from silage for monogastric animals, such as pigs and poultry. The INNOFEED project aims to improve the profitability of farms and domestic protein self-sufficiency in Finland.

The objective of the INNOFEED project is to improve the profitability of farms with the help of technology that will be used for producing feed products from silage that will offer higher added value. At the same time, low protein self-sufficiency in Finland will be improved, which is only about 15% in terms of protein supplementary feeds.

The project will develop models for both farm-specific and centralised biorefineries that produce new feed products. Their profitability will also be evaluated as the objective is to develop production methods that will not require costly investments on farms. In addition, the commercialisation of the technology and exporting it to the international market will be investigated.

During the project, grass will be used to produce various products that can be used as feed, such as protein-rich and sugar-rich "feed juice" and single-cell protein. The cellulose of the silage will be broken down into sugars that will be used for producing feed protein with the help of Paecilomyces variotii. The nutritional value and preservability of feed juice products will be improved with the help of lactic acid bacteria. A range of applications are sought for a fibre-rich side stream from the production of biogas, for example, which enables energy production and returning nutrients to fields.

As silage, grass biomass can be refined all year round. Due to its high protein content and reduced lignin, it is easier to process into fractions of sugar and protein than wood or straw, for example.

Utilisation of grass crop can be increased

Grass grows well in Finland. The major part of the crop will be harvested as silage and used as feed for cattle. The production of grass and silage can be significantly increased by making cultivation more efficient, increasing crop level, and adopting farming land that is underused or set aside.

According to the Natural Resources Institute Finland, there is potential in Finland, in addition to the current feed use, to produce grass in an area of 470,000 hectares that could be used as energy and other new applications. If the crop were 5,000–8,000 kg/hectare/year, it would correspond as biomass to a production potential of 2.3–3.8 million tonnes of dry matter. By including grass in the cultivation cycle, the erosion of fields can be reduced, biodiversity can be increased, and the structure of soil and the cycle of nutrients can be improved. This would be particularly beneficial in Southern Finland where cultivation cycles are often one-sided.

VTT implements the INNOFEED project in cooperation with the Natural Resources Institute Finland. The three-year project was started in September 2015. The project is funded by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, VTT, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, and a group of eight companies that represent the whole value chain of a grass biorefinery that will closely monitor how the results will be adopted in business operations.

​Further information: Natural Resources Institute Finland, Marketta Rinne, Professor, tel. +358 29 5326482

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