To replace cereals in animal feed with less sticky co-products from circular agriculture, finding out how animal feed pellets stay intact is paramount.
In the unique, Wageningen-based collaboration Pelleting in the circular agriculture (PCA), experts from animal science, process technology, and physics are investigating how to make sustainable animal feed and give power to the pellet. Pelleted animal feed is rich in cereals, but in order to further move towards a circular agriculture, more co-products should be used to feed animals such as pigs and chickens. Figuring out how to replace cereals in animal feed, however, is a daunting task, because in addition to providing nutritional value, the cereals make the pellets stronger.
Pelleted animal feed is rich in cereals, but in order to further move towards a circular agriculture, more co-products should be used to feed animals such as pigs and chickens. Photo: Ronald Hissink
Pelleting in the circular agriculture
The project investigates how more co-products from agriculture and the human food industry – such as those released during the production of food or biofuels, for example – could be included in pelleted feed. The physical and chemical properties of these co-products differ from those of complete cereals.
Zetadec’s Menno Thomas, who co-coordinates the project: “The main problem of replacing cereals by co-products in pellet feed is that such modifications weaken the pellets, making them brittle. This leads to losses throughout the entire chain, from production and transport to storage, and even in less nutrition during the feeding of pigs and chickens. The challenge then is to find new ways to incorporate these co-products into animal feed.”
Insights at a microscopic level
PCA provides insights at a microscopic level into the physical and chemical properties of animal feed. In order to achieve this, the researchers use a mix of 3D-imaging and mechanical measurements.
Joshua Dijksman, assistant professor of Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter at Wageningen University & Research: “During the production of animal feed, basic ingredients are mixed, after which moisture and heat are added. The mixture is then pressed into pellets. We will study all these stages of production in-depth and look at how we can optimize the process for processing co-products in animal feed. The aim is to discover how we can make high-quality feed pellets of the future, without having to use cereals.”
The aim is to discover how we can make high-quality feed pellets of the future, without having to use cereals,” says Dijksman.
The project uniquely aims to combine the expertise of the fundamental and applied sciences by relating studies conducted at a microscopic level to those carried out at the level of the pellet factory. This, however, is not the only unique feature about this project, as its findings are actively disseminated to (young) feed professionals via workshops organised by the Netherlands-based Feed Design Lab and e-learning modules developed by the educational professionals of Aeres Training Centre International.
Project co-coordinator Guido Bosch from the Animal Nutrition Group at Wageningen University & Research: “In this way we believe that we can provide feed manufacturers with new knowledge and tools that allow them to make their feeds more fit for the circular agriculture.”
In this public-private collaborative project, Wageningen University & Research works together with a host of partners from across the sector: Zetadec, Agrifirm, DSM, Elanco Animal Health, Phileo by Lesaffre, Pelleting Technology Netherlands, VICTAM Foundation, Feed Design Lab and Aeres Training Centre International.