1 May 2018

Internship Nicolò Braconi, student of sustainable food process engineering

Environmental impact of food products and their macronutrients composition

In April Nicolò Braconi started his internship at Blonk Consultants. He is with us to do an interesting internship research project on environmental impact of foods and their macronutrient composition.

Below you will read more about his research project. First, we are delighted to present Nicolò to you in his own words:
“As an Italian I have always taken food really seriously! It is not only a sensory pleasure and social occasion, but also a way to connect with nature and the environment. These ideas pushed me to study Food Technology, first at Perugia University and later at Wageningen University, where I took the MSc course on Sustainable Food Process Engineering. I approached the concept of sustainability assessment through my thesis, where I compared the environmental performance of different meat substitute products.
I am excited to start this new experience at Blonk Consultants, where I will learn more about how organisms interact with the environment.

Having said all that, it may surprise you that I am not only a food engineer – in my free time I am an Ultimate Frisbee player, a worldwide traveller and an avid reader'. ”
Nicolò Braconi, Master’s student of sustainable food process engineering

Environmental impact of food products

Developing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) databases is a time consuming and expensive exercise, amongst other causes, due to the many data that need to be gathered. In fact, the demand for environmental assessments of food products is large, but there are also so many different items on the market, that it will never be possible to develop a database that covers them all. This leads to estimations of environmental impacts of various food products, based on intrinsic properties.

Relationship between macronutrients composition and environmental indicators

We suspect that nature requires a certain amount of energy to build building blocks like proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The energy is available in the form of feed in the case of animals and light in the case of plants. So, throughout the lifetime of these organisms, the energy input is dispatched over the different building blocks. The hypothesis is that if we have the key for dispatching energy over the main building blocks, we would be able to estimate the environmental impact of food products based on their macronutrients composition.

During the project, the metabolic pathways and production processes of different food groups will be analyzed. The main food groups of interest will be: beef, pork, poultry, C3 plants and C4 plants.
The objective is to have more insights on the footprint of food products and investigate whether there is a relationship between macronutrients composition and environmental indicators, such as the impact on climate change. If so, a mathematical model will be developed to explain the underlying mechanism and try to estimate the environmental performances of food products.

This would not replace the data collection for conducting LCAs in database development, but it would complement the development of databases. We would be able to estimate the environmental impact of food products that we have not performed an LCA for, based on scientific reasoning.

More information

If you have any questions about Nicolò’s research project,
please send a mail to Nicolò Braconi or call Nicolò on +31 (0)182 579970.