ReSearchL: Research initiative focuses on resilience in the food supply
How resilient is our food supply? Temporarily empty shelves during the Corona crisis showed that the answer to this question is more urgent than ever. Guaranteeing people a supply of food that is both safe in terms of health and of high quality is an essential system-relevant tasks that is affected by complex factors and that needs to be rethought in many respects in view of several weaknesses in the system. Researchers from six Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institutes have set themselves this goal and joined together to form the »Resilient system architecture to safeguard food production« (ReSearchL) initiative.
Prof. Andrea Büttner, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, who leads the initiative: »In order to ensure the supply of high-quality food in the future – and not only in times of crisis – the right steps must be taken today along the entire value chain in the food industry.« Networking the global food system is a highly complex issue, because food supply relies on supplier networks and supply chains that are highly interconnected both locally and globally. In light of dwindling resources and the challenges posed by climate change, this is also becoming increasingly threatened, while the growing concentration of food production locations is leading to critical infrastructures and systemic risks.
The ReSearchL initiative involves researchers from Fraunhofer Institutes whose objective is to make it possible to analyze, assess and shape the resilience of the system architecture of food production. The main focus is to obtain relevant data to generate solution approaches to achieving improved resilience. »To do this, risks and weaknesses must be considered individually and in interaction with each other. The human factor plays a central role in food production, where human resources can sometimes be the scarcest resource«, says Dr. Marc Mauermann from Fraunhofer IVV, who is responsible for the initiative. Using vegetable oil and protein production (innovative oil mill) and vertical farming as examples, strategies for resilient value creation are developed, which are then implemented as a feasibility study. The findings help to develop future tools and technology cornerstones that could serve as solution approaches in national and international crisis scenarios.
Innovative oil mills
In Central Europe, vegetable oils are produced almost exclusively from rapeseed or sunflower seeds in huge oil mills. The European vegetable oil and animal feed system is highly vulnerable to crop failure, plant diseases, criminal manipulation or terrorist attacks due to a number of factors ranging from the lack of diversity in raw materials and the large production facilities to the low value of domestic feed grist and the resulting dependence on imports from Asia and South America. Using reliable models as a basis, the process chain for the innovative oil mill is being investigated to determine which restart or start strategies can be used to minimize the impact of disruptive scenarios, or how the integration of simultaneous protein extraction into oil production can give both value creation and revenue a boost.
In contrast to obtaining oil using a modular and closed method, vertical farming is more resilient to environmental influences. However, this controlled production approach is susceptible to technical and, to a certain extent, biological problems due to the indoor framework conditions that have to be constantly guaranteed. Based on this information, measures to increase technical and ecological resilience are being developed and experimentally tested. The approaches developed here will serve as a new starting point for further resilience strategies in the future, such as the flexible changeover from short-term, standard crop production that is low in nutrients to longer-term, carbohydrate-rich crop production in order to secure basic supplies in times of crisis.
New scientific approach
Resilient value chains in the food industry are not only characterized by the ability to supply food and its precursors – their main characteristic is safe food. Food safety, with its complex influences in the supply chain, but especially in production, must therefore be considered just as much when it comes to resilient food production. This is the focus of ReSearchL, which pursues a new approach in science, ensured by the collaboration between the involved institutes from the Resource Technologies and Bioeconomy, ICT and Microelectronics and Production Engineering networks, which are all contributing their complementary expertise in processing technology, life sciences, product and process development, digitalization and data management, supply chain and energy supply. As a result of the interdisciplinary collaboration, new solutions are being developed that meet the increased demand for resilience in food production with all of its complexity.
The following units are involved in the “ReSearchL” initiative:
Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV (lead)
Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT
Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME
The following institutes are associated partners:
Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM
Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC
Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU
Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV