The Leaf Protein Co. is using the humble green leaf to change the global food chain - LaunchVic

The Leaf Protein Co. is using the humble green leaf to change the global food chain

Case Studies

For Melbourne AgTech entrepreneur Fern Ho, the humble green leaf could hold the key to feeding rising populations.

“One of the main problems we’re solving is tackling the biodiversity crisis in our food system,” Fern says.

“The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared this a pretty severe threat to our food system and our health.”

“So, what Leaf Protein Co. is looking to do is commercialise the most abundant source of protein on Earth, which is found in leaves.”

For almost four years, the Leaf Protein Co. team has been doing their bit to bring back diversity in agri-food systems by building a library of protein from different leaf sources from around the world – including green leaves.

Through Leaf Protein Co.’s sustainable extraction technology, the startup is able to extract leaf protein from any plant source in order to increase the biodiversity of plant protein ingredients.

As well as giving food manufacturers access to better plant-based ingredients, the platform-technology will also enable farmers to generate revenue from a wider range of crops, both cash and cover crops.

Earth’s most abundant food source

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has revealed that since the 1900s 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost.

However the plant-based and alternative protein sector is tipped to reach $5 billion and create 6,000 new jobs by 2030 according to Food Innovation Australia.

Leaf Protein Co. co-founder and CSO (Chief Security Officer) Connor Balfany began his research in plant protein extraction in 2017, while Fern was introduced to leaf protein after she developed significant food intolerances and allergies as an adult.

“When I discovered that leaf protein was this abundant source of protein that can be found basically in all plants that photosynthesize, it made me wonder why we haven’t sought to bring this to market or made it available as a food source,” Fern said.

With the AgTech startup looking to scale up production to produce larger samples to test in market, Fern said LaunchVic’s support couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The $50,000 LaunchVic grant and co-investment from the Hugh Victor McKay Fund helped us open the pathway to commercialisation even further,” Fern said.

“We have been able to access a lot of the skills that we don’t yet have in-house.

“With this investment we are now looking to hire, which will help with the ongoing production of leaf protein and the commercialisation of bringing our ingredients to market.”

The startup also leveraged the grant to secure a further $50,000 from the End Food Waste CRC.

“We had actually already been collaborating both with RMIT and the End Food Waste CRC on leaf protein extraction and valorising waste leafy material,” she said.

“It was a great opportunity for us to be able to extend the scope of our work with RMIT through the matched funding from the CRC.”

A lot of work that the Leaf Protein Co. team has done to date has been lab-based up until the second half of last year when the pilot plant was completed, says Fern.

“It was the first step for us in terms of scaling up production of protein, from something that’s lab scale into actual kilogram quantities,” she said.

“We were able to also increase the ability to produce the protein and validate its functionality and its application in different food products.”


Scaling up production

Since receiving the grant, the team have spoken to 30 – 40 companies across Australia and overseas about their interest in leaf protein ingredients.

“Now that we have set up the pilot plant that allows us to produce larger quantities, these interested prospects can start to validate and test our ingredients in the finished product,” Fern says.

“The funding will accelerate those conversations and our goal for 2024 is to progress these conversations with interested food manufacturers and potential customers.”