NASA graphic showing Technology Readiness Levels; Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

So what next? How far are these prototypes from landing in our local supermarket?

The technology readiness level (TRL) scale can be used to answer these questions. The TRL scale is used by many different industries and is meant to assess how mature, or how ready a piece of technology is to be introduced as a fully implemented system. For example, from the food industry perspective giving the technology its own fully functioning supply chain. The TRL scale is based on 9 levels. TRL 1 indicates the lowest stage, where the technology is first being researched and developed. TRL 9 is the highest, demonstrating that the technology has the ability to be fully integrated into the food system. This scale is therefore used to help make decisions on the development and the transitioning of a technology to high levels[1].

Using this scale, all the food prototypes from University College Cork as part of PROTEIN2FOOD have been validated and demonstrated in a lab pilot-plant, which is equivalent to TRL 4. This means that before reaching the full potential of commercialisation (TRL 9), important steps are needed to demonstrate that the prototypes are validated for an industrial plant setting, bringing them to a TRL 5 or 6. PROTEIN2FOOD has been working together with small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as project partners to help allow the transfer of the research results on food prototypes to a demonstration and pilot-plant level. This will ultimately help facilitate market access in the future. So, more time and validation is still needed before we get to see these prototypes in the flesh but PROTEIN2FOOD has made important strides in developing attractive and nutritious prototypes that could eventually provide consumers with more plant-based protein possibilities.

[1] Horizon 2020. (2014). Technology readiness levels (TRL). [online]. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/wp/2014_2015/annexes/h2020-wp1415-annex-g-trl_en.pdf. [Accessed 22nd May 2019].