This leafy protein grows everywhere

Could plant leaves discarded as waste be one of the world’s most abundant sources of protein?

This leafy protein grows everywhere
Co-founder and CEO of The Leaf Protein Co, Fern Ho

Could plant leaves discarded as bio-waste or animal feed become one of the world’s most abundant sources of protein?

The quest to source alternative plant proteins from green leaves is the subject of a new pilot program being run by a pioneering startup called The Leaf Protein Co.

Leaf protein is the world’s most abundant source of protein by volume, according to the startup. By unlocking the complex extraction process that binds the protein, it hopes to reduce global reliance on resource-intensive crops such as soy which contribute to deforestation and heavy use of precious water resources.

The Leaf Protein Co says this breakthrough technology can be applied to a variety of plant sources, including waste leaf material and perennial leafy crops.

Slashing the footprint

The tech could also play a role in regenerating degraded farmland by providing commercial uses for plants such as saltbush that can survive arid conditions and improve soil health according to co-founder and CEO of The Leaf Protein Co, Fern Ho.

Now the startup’s extraction process has been proven in the lab, The Leaf Protein Co is working on scaling its pilot facilities and production capacity out in the field.

To conduct the pilot, The Leaf Protein Co will apply its extraction technology to alfalfa crops, Ho says, while collaborating with crop production and waste management to assist the farmers in central Queensland who are taking part in the trial.

Protein breakthrough

It was a quest to find allergy-free ingredients that led Ho to delve into the provenance of food and its impact on health, and ultimately explore the prospect of extracting protein from leaves.

According to Ho, many crops today produce large volumes of leafy by-products that could provide a viable source of protein, and several of these with commercial potential have already identified.

“The waste streams from our extraction process can also be further valorised as other food ingredients, animal feed and packaging materials,” she says.

Once the extraction technology is commercialised, the company hopes to reduce the environmental footprint of the food industry while providing a novel and abundant source of plant-based protein to a growing global population.

"Our mission is to help unlock Earth's most abundant and sustainable source of proteins: green leaves."

The tech

The Leaf Protein Co is developing a wet extraction process to retain and preserve the functional nutrition held within plants, in particular the protein element called Rubisco. The plant protein has a full essential amino acid profile, with binding, gelling and emulsification capabilities required for food processing.It’s also highly soluble, for use in beverages. The Leaf Protein Co also hopes to explore additional functional properties that food manufacturers seek.

Who funds it

The Leaf Protein Co has received pre-seed from Big Idea Ventures and Loyal VC, and also receives support from Australia’s Banana Shire Council, LaunchVic and the Victorian government.

Is it ready to roll

The startup is running a pilot designed to scale up its extraction technology in order to provide volume samples for food industry trials in collaboration with farmers growing alfalfa in Queensland.

* met with Fern Ho at the Global Entrepreneur Congress in Melbourne.