Livestock production is utilizing large amounts of protein-rich feed ingredients such as soybean meal. The proven negative environmental impacts of soybean meal production incentivize the search for alternative protein sources. One promising alternative is Microbial Protein (MP), i.e. dried microbial biomass. To date, only few life cycle assessments (LCAs) for MP have been carried out, none of which has used a consequential modelling approach nor has been investigating the production of MP on food and beverage wastewater. Therefore, the objective of this study is to evaluate the environmental impact of MP production on a food and beverage effluent as a substitute for soybean meal using a consequential modelling approach. Three different types of MP production were analysed, namely consortia containing Aerobic Heterotrophic Bacteria (AHB), Microalgae and AHB (MaB), and Purple Non-Sulfur Bacteria (PNSB). The production of MP was modelled for high-strength potato wastewater (COD = 10 kg/m3) at a flow rate of 1,000 m3/day. LCA results were compared against soybean meal production for the endpoint impact categories human health, ecosystems, and resources. Soybean meal showed up to 52% higher impact on human health and up to 87% higher impact on ecosystems than MP. However, energy-related aspects resulted in an 8-88% higher resource exploitation for MP. A comparison between the MP production systems showed that MaB performed best when considering ecosystems (between 13 and 14% better) and resource (between 71 and 80% better) impact categories, while AHB and PNSB had lower values for the impact category human health (8-12%). The sensitivity analysis suggests that the conclusions drawn are robust as in the majority of 1,000 Monte Carlo runs the initial results are confirmed. In conclusion, it is suggested that MP is an alternative protein source of comparatively low environmental impact that should play a role in the future protein transition, in particular when further process improvements can be implemented and more renewable or waste energy sources will be used.
Keywords: Novel protein; Nutrient recovery; Protein transition; Purple phototrophic bacteria; Resource recovery; Single-cell protein.
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