Increasing the production of biomass crops has the potential to help provide Europe’s growing population with a secure and sustainable supply of food, animal feed, bioenergy and other products.
However, because the continent’s most fertile land is already being used for traditional crop production, the hunt is on for high-yielding biomass crops that can grow well in lower quality, marginal soils.
The EU- and industry-funded LIBBIO project has identified the Andean lupin (Lupinus mutabilis) as an excellent choice for meeting this challenge.
Growing well on marginal lands with little water or fertiliser, the plant’s seeds contain an antioxidant-rich oil, the composition of which is comparable to argan oil. This makes it well-suited for use in cosmetics, skincare and haircare. The oil could also be used to make mayonnaise and margarine, while the plant’s protein and fibre could be incorporated into a variety of foodstuffs, including pasta, noodles and a range of health food products.
LIBBIO researchers are using modern breeding approaches to adapt the Andean lupin to European farming conditions. In parallel, they are developing a range of useful products using green processing technologies.
‘Among the main results of our project is that farmers in the EU now have access to uniform seeds for growing this crop,’ says project coordinator Páll Árnason of Innovation Center Iceland. ‘Our genetic toolbox will go on to speed up the development of new Andean lupin varieties, and a second “sweet” variety – especially suited for food applications – is already in the innovation pipeline.’
Progress in the field
Cropping trials across seven European countries are ongoing and after just a few years of breeding and line selection, the outlook is promising. LIBBIO’s recent work has demonstrated that the new lupin crop can be harvested with existing farm machines and economic returns for the farmer are profitable.
In terms of the environmental impact, the lupins tested in the field require little fertiliser. The plant’s ability to enrich the soil with nitrogen and phosphate makes it ideal for crop rotation, whereby other crops benefit from enhanced and regenerated soil. The researchers have also found that pollinating insects are attracted by the lupin’s attractive flowers and scent.
Cropping manuals produced by the project will explain how farmers can grow the Andean lupin in their local environment using sustainable, zero-emission practices designed to increase biodiversity, soil fertility and soil stability.
LIBBIO researchers are currently developing and optimising eco-friendly processing technologies for extracting oil, protein and other valuable substances from the lupin. This strand of research includes the development of an experimental biorefinery that uses supercritical carbon dioxide as an eco-friendly solvent in the oil-extraction process.
The first processing trials are demonstrating the economic feasibility of using cold-pressed oil to produce high-quality cosmetics, such as hair conditioner, lipstick and facial creams.
Planting new ideas
‘We’ve discussed the project results at over 80 events in 10 countries, at which farmers and consumers could experience the benefits of Andean lupin cropping and its sustainable, bio-based products,’ says Árnason.
‘Larger companies have been following the project and are likely to step in as Andean lupin agriculture grows. I believe we can expect the demand for its many applications to increase in the coming years.’
Project partner Vandinter Semo is aiming to provide the first Andean lupin seeds to farmers in 2021. Meanwhile, another partner, Color&Brain, is developing a new line for the natural cosmetic brand ZoiY using refined Andean lupin seed oil. It is also investigating its use in novel vegan food products.
The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is a Public-Private Partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium, operating under Horizon 2020.