Success Stories

Sprouting ideas and mushrooms

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You know you’re an innovator when you decide to go into business with a brand new process for which there is no real precedent. That is exactly what Dominique Lynch-Gauthier and Lysiane Roy Maheu, co-founders of  Blanc de gris, have been doing since 2015 by using brewery spent grains as a cultivation medium of oyster mushrooms.

Brewery spent grain is in fact the cereal that is left after being used in the beer-making process. “Brewers use the soluble part of the grains—mostly sugars—and most of the fibres and proteins are preserved,” says Dominique Lynch-Gauthier. “This is why spent grain is an excellent substrate for mushroom cultivation. [When we use this substrate,] the mushrooms have a higher protein content than those grown on other substrates such as straw.”

The mushroom farmers had to start from scratch to develop their substrate. Ingredients had to be incorporated into the spent grain, and factors such as carbon/nitrogen ratio, acidity, moisture content or granularity had to be optimized. After many trials, the company began harvesting oyster mushrooms, which it now sells to restaurants, delicatessens and individuals.

But the two entrepreneurs are still craving for more. They recently started a research project with Biopterre, a college centre for the transfer of technology (CCTT) affiliated with Cégep de La Pocatière. “Our mission is to put innovation at the service of companies who want to increase their competitiveness in the field of bioresources,” summarizes researcher Catherine Bélanger. Herself being an expert in mycotechnologies, which is priceless for Blanc de gris.

“The company is looking for ways to enhance its signature substrate,” continues Catherine Bélanger. “Currently, the substrate is disposed of into compost after being used, but there are ways to recover the material that would be much more interesting.”

Biopterre will first analyze the current process to assess whether it is possible to increase the mass of fungi cultivated with a given volume of substrate. Oyster mushrooms also produce many enzymes that remain in the substrate and for which opportunities could be identified in industries such as food or pulp and paper. This would generate new sources of income for Blanc de gris. After being depleted of its fungi and enzymes, the substrate could even be further transformed into biochar, for example, a soil amendment resulting from the pyrolysis of a biomass.

The Montreal-based company located in the heart of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district does not intend to stop there. The entrepreneurs are already testing the cultivation potential of other mushroom varieties to improve its product offer. They also rapidly shifted to online retail and home delivery when the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to their restaurant sales. “We would also like to study the possibility of recovering the carbon dioxide emitted by fungi and using it in greenhouses, in short, there is no shortage of ideas and projects here! “, concludes Dominique Lynch-Gauthier.

The text was extracted from the Quebecinnove website: https://www.quebecinnove.com/histoire-succes/des-idees-qui-poussent-comme-des-champignons/

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