FoodPilotPlant Norway is a research infrastructure for food processing located at NMBU and Nofima on Campus Ås. The infrastructure is built up through own effort by the participating institutions and the allocation of infrastructure funds from the Research Council of Norway. FoodPilotPlant Norway has received two grants from the Research Council of Norway, Phase I from 2011 to 2015 was granted 29 million NOK and Phase II (current project) started in 2020 and was granted 49 million NOK. Up to now, 16 million NOK of the funds allocated in Phase II has been invested in new equipment, and more equipment is on its way. The infrastructure is in operation based on Phase I. The allocation of infrastructure grants from the Research Council of Norway gives us the opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art pilot facility on Campus Ås, and this makes us an outstanding arena for research on food production and food processing. The infrastructure has made it possible for Campus Ås to expand its research opportunities, both in terms of food processing, development of new food products and research on food safety. FoodPilotPlant Norway has thus made it possible for us to apply for and be awarded funding for new and innovative research projects.
FoodPilotPlant has infrastructure and equipment adapted for research, innovation, and teaching in the processing of all types of food raw materials, as well as residual raw materials from this processing. The infrastructure has equipment to produce food products in a small scale, such as breakfast cereals, beer, cheese and sausages, tanks for various fermentations, packaging and for examining the growth of pathogenic microorganisms in processed foods. Increased research focus on sustainability means that we have increased our focus on implementing infrastructure which enables us to utilize the entire raw material and to explore the use of green technology when we produce food. The infrastructure also has access to laboratories with a wide range of instruments for detailed analysis of food.
FoodPilotPlant Norway has a wide range of uses and the infrastructure is used in international and national research projects, in teaching, and for testing processes and production of test products for the food industry. FoodPilotPlant Norway is used by students in Food Science both in regular teaching, in the form of exercises, but also in master's and PhD experimental work. In 2021, a total of 122 researchers (including 50 from the industry) and 132 bachelor and master's students used the infrastructure in FoodPilotPlant Norway. The infrastructure is currently a research base for 10 PhD students. Normally, the infrastructure is also used for external courses connected to i.e., the ecology program funded by the Norwegian Directorate of Agriculture and the Competence Network for small-scale food production, but these corses has not been implemented in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 shutdown. In 2021, the activity in FoodPilotPlant Norway resulted in 24 Scientific articles published in international scientific journals. FoodPilotPlant Norway also has regularly had media coverage (15 in 2021).
There are currently > 24 research projects on Campus Ås (with a total budget of> NOK 907 million) that uses FoodPilotPlant Norway in their research. These projects work, for example, with:
- To develop meat substitutes made from beans that can be used e.g., in burgers.
- Norwegian tapas cheese made from goat's milk, and the importance of somatic cells in milk for the quality of cheese.
- Quality of food when new feed-resources such as yeast grown from wood sugar, insects, seaweed, and kelp are used.
- How molecules turn in food, which enables us to rapidly measure what types of fat, what kind of proteins - and how much of each fat and protein type the food contain, and thus improve the utilization of raw materials.
- How chicken trimmings can be used to produce bacteria or yeast, which can then be used for i.e., oil or new food ingredients.
- To develop more environmentally friendly packaging that at the same time extends the shelf life of the food.
- Develop new ways to secure the food against the growth of unwanted bacteria and thus provide increased shelf life and better taste of the food.
Operations in 2020 and 21 have been strongly affected by COVID 19, where especially NMBU, but also partly Nofima, has been shut down for parts of the year. Use and utilization of the infrastructure has therefore been much lower than expected. For the university, it was considered critical to be able to carry out practical exercises with students, and to be able to prioritize the teaching activities, other activities were severely limited.
In this infrastructure proposal, we apply for a further upgrading of the existing national infrastructure, FoodPilotPlant Norway at Campus Ås, which was established on the Norwegian Roadmap for research infrastructure (NFR) through the funding (NFR: 208674/F50) from 2011 - 2014 (Phase I). Through the operation of the Phase I national infrastructure , new demands have been identified. In addition, due to limited funding in Phase I, equipment had to be prioritized. Old equipment (pre Phase I) now strongly needs upgrading and renewal, without funding some of the infrastructure facilities might stop. Through a Phase II upgrading, both national and international food science research communities will have access to a relevant, up-to-date food-processing infrastructure that supports high-quality research and innovation. State-of-the-art pilot plant facilities makes Campus Ås an outstanding arena for food production, education, research, development and industrial contract work. The infrastructure has enabled Campus Ås to expand the research possibilities, both with respect to food processing, new food product development and food safety research. FoodPilotPlant Norway has thus enabled us to apply for, and to be allocated funding for new and innovative research projects, which broaden the Norwegian research fundament. Today the food industry encapsulates a broader concept than earlier, and there is higher societal demands for a sustainable use of the entire raw material. This means that increased focus on obtaining more valorized products from the food value chain by the use of green technology, which needs to be addressed by the food industry. Phase II will strongly contribute to research within this shift. Considering the already outstanding food science research community at Campus Ås, there is every reason to envisage extensive use and further upgrading of such facilities.