Aberdeen Alfalfa Business Receives Technical Help From INL

Published online: Mar 24, 2020 Articles Paul Menser
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An Aberdeen company is working with Idaho National Laboratory to expand the market for alfalfa hay by developing a new type of protein supplement.       

Alfalfa’s value as a high-protein feed for animals has been known for centuries. Chris Pratt and Scott Jackson of Green Gold Development LLC believe, however, that the protein in the leaves can be liquefied, then turned into powder for human consumption. To pursue the idea, Green Gold applied for and received 40 hours of research expertise under INL’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP).

The story started in 2016, when Pratt and Jackson developed a harvesting header that can separate nutrient-rich alfalfa leaves from their stalks. In traditional cutting and baling, 20% of a hay crop’s leaves are left on the ground. Green Gold’s header fractionates the leaves, allowing the stalks to be baled as hay and fed to livestock. 

Around this same time, Pratt ran into Neal Yancey, another Aberdeen native and former schoolmate, now with INL’s Biomass Feedstock National User Facility (BFNUF). As they caught up, they started playing “what if?”

They first talked about frying and pelletizing alfalfa leaves for fuel, Yancey’s main research focus and something BFNUF has extensive experience doing. But then they started talking about protein. What if the fractionated alfalfa leaves ─ 30% protein as dry matter ─ could be converted into a protein product for use in nutritional supplements?

INL houses distinctive capabilities for characterizing the physical chemical properties of biomass materials, and Green Gold was able to access them through the TAP support program. Each year, the TAP program offers up to 40 hours of expertise to about a dozen small businesses that intersect with the lab’s mission areas. The assistance is available only when comparable expertise cannot be found in the region.

Under TAP, INL has helped a wide range of companies, including a Pocatello company needing battery testing for portable solar power units and an inventor with a device capable of restoring broken underground power lines six times as quickly as standard methods. 

What Pratt has set out to produce with Yancey and INL researcher Brad Wahlen is 5 pounds of protein product to take to potential customers. A cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) could be the next step, Yancey said. Under the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986, a CRADA’s purpose is to speed the commercialization of technology, optimize resources, and protect the private company involved.

INL is continually looking for technology deployment opportunities, and if Pratt’s concept scales up it could bring significant new jobs to Green Gold, which currently employs six people in Aberdeen. And while the INL’s focus is usually on producing fuels from biomass, food is fuel and commercialization possibilities should always be explored.

“This fits right in with what we’re doing,” Yancey said. 


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