Finnamyl: Is there future potential in potato protein?

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti, Photos: Julia Hannula, Finnamyl

Everything started in 1942 with potato farming and making potato starch for pudding-making needs at home. The core expertise of Finnamyl Oy from Kokemäki includes separating potato starch, liquid and fibre. Thanks to major investments in recent years, their expertise have developed. In the new process carried out at the factory, the liquid of the potato is further divided into protein, fertiliser and water that is nearly pure. Sounds like the circular economy at its best.

The potato starch factory was founded by Hämeen Peruna in Kokemäki. For the first decades it was known as Satakunnan Peruna (Satakunta Potato). In addition to household needs, some potato flour was produced for the food industry and bakeries. A great step was taken in the history of the factory in the 1970s with the introduction of potato flour for the needs of the paper industry.
“This was when more large-scale, technological use of the starch began. Copy paper, for example, still contains approximately four per cent starch; high-quality paper even more,” explains Ossi Paakki, Managing Director of Finnamyl.

Toimitusjohtaja Ossi Paakki Finnamylin tuotantolaitoksen tiloissa © Julia Hannula

Managing Director at the Finnamyl production facilities.

In 1984, Raision Tehtaat purchased the potato starch operations of Hämeen Peruna. This was also reflected in Kokemäki.
“The process was reorganised and a biological waste water treatment facility was built. As a result of these changes, it was possible to process the cell sap that was derived as a byproduct of the starch process in a slightly different method. This made it possible to make fertiliser, which continued to be produced up to the protein investment made a few years ago.”

“Our 300 contract farmers now own more than half of the factory.”

When the new millennium began, Finnamyl was owned first by Swiss and then by German investors for some time. In 2010, a part of the company management founded Chemigate, a company focusing on the production of modified starch for the uses of the paper industry. Finnamyl, the producer of the raw material, and its subsidiary Lapuan Peruna were separated into independent companies.
“Now, our 300 contract farmers own over 50 per cent of the factory and the operating management about 30 per cent. Partners are also involved, such as Raisioagro, part of the Raisio Group, and the Swedish Lyckeby Starch Ab, another farmer-owned starch-producer.”

Finnamylin tehdasalue lintuperspektiivistä © Finnamyl

The Finnamyl production site is a bioeconomy facility located on the outskirts of the town of Kokemäki. Components of the process include the starch factory, protein factory and fertiliser factory, for which heat energy is provided by the biofuel utilising heat energy unit of Kokemäen Lämpö power company. The biological waste waters generated in the production are conducted to the Kokemäenjoki River through the facility’s own water treatment plant. The water that has been processed by the plant is usually cleaner than the water in Kokemäenjoki River.

Organic starch to the world

The production volume of potato starch in the three-month fermentation time totals about 24,000 tonnes in Kokemäki. Of this, about 2,000 tonnes are packed for consumer use in the 500-gram potato starch and potato grits packages that are so well known in Finland.
“Everything else is used by the industry, the food processing industry in Finland and abroad as well as for the technical purposes of the paper industry.

Perunajauhot ja -suurimot kuluttajapakkauksissaan © Julia Hannula

No matter which Finnish grocer’s you visit, if you pick up a package of potato starch or grits, it has probably been produced in Kokemäki.

Organic products are a specialty of the Kokemäki plant.
“The total volume of production of organic starch that we pack into 25-kg bags and smaller consumer packages is around 500 tons a year. In total production, the share of organic production is very small, but internationally we are among the top three producers of organic potato starch.

“Internationally we are among the top three producers of organic potato starch.”

90 per cent of organic starch is produced for exports, including the US, Holland and the Far East. Organic products are better suited for the production of a small starch factory than bigger competitors.
“The big European factories do not consider it sensible to produce such small volumes. If the share of organic production is a couple of days of our all production time, the same share would mean just a few hours at a larger plant. That is not economically feasible.

Perunaraaka-ainetta © Finnamyl

The factory receives approximately 100 million kilograms of potato during the fermentation period.

Major investment in a protein plant

About 20 per cent of potato is starch, i.e. energy that the nature has intended to start growth in the following spring. There is less than one per cent fibre in the cell walls and peels of a potato. The rest, almost 80 per cent of potato, is water matter, or cell sap.
“In the starch process, these three materials are separated from each other. Previously, all cell sap was spread on the fields as fertiliser. Now, it can be conducted from the starch factory to the new protein plant and processed further.

At the new plant, it is possible to subtract more valuable ingredients from the cell sap.

Finnamyl invested in the protein plant in 2015. The most important reason behind the investment was changed legislation that restricts the spreading of cell sap in the fields in autumn.
“We were able to react to the requirements of legislation and, while doing so, to create new business operations that will hopefully be very profitable in the future.”

Proteiinilaitoksen solunestesäiliö © Julia Hannula

The cell sap container at the protein plant receives the cell sap from the starch plant through a tube. A little over 70,000 cubic metres of cell sap is derived from the potato processed during the fermentation period. This can be processed into 1,000 tonnes or so of precious protein.

At the new plant, it is possible to subtract more valuable ingredients from the cell sap, and they encompass the new business opportunities. One of these opportunities is Bio-Kali, a fertiliser suitable for organic farming and manufactured from the remaining solution of the new plant. It is produced by the company Adven that has invested in a concentrating machine and operates as a service provider in the facilities of Finnamyl.

After the much sought-after amino acids

The cell sap of potato includes a couple of per cent of potato protein. The quality of protein is determined by the amino acids it contains. Potato protein has an excellent concentration of amino acids. It contains all the 20 amino acids that humans need and in an appropriate ratio for human nutrition.
“A protein source like this, of domestic origin, is much sought-after at the market, both as feedstuff and for human nutrition.”

Looking for a European replacement for imported soy protein.

Everywhere in Europe, there is an ongoing search for a European replacement for imported soy protein that contains risks such as allergens and GMO. Soy is clearly the most common protein source in feedstuff, for instance.
“Large volumes of soy are imported into Europe mostly from Brazil.”

Ossi Paakki © Julia Hannula

Managing Director Ossi Paakki considers the development process an interesting one, but it is also financially straining. Functioning processes are discovered in cooperation with universities and private research institutions.

For now, the protein raw material produced by Finnamyl will be sold to feedstuff producers.
“The production of protein suitable for human food production requires a lower temperature than our processes are capable of at the moment. The high stalling temperature decreases the quality of protein, so for now all of it goes into feedstuff production.

“We hope to be able to provide an ingredient for a consumer product following in the footsteps of processed broad beans and pullet oats.”

Willingness to invest in human food products still exists.
“We are not planning to compete in the producing of ready-made consumer products, like Härkis broad beans products or Nyhtökaura pulled oats, but we are looking into providing ingredients for similar consumer products.”

The possibility of discovering other raw materials besides potato to process at the protein plant in Kokemäki is not ruled out at the plant.