Sustainable Protein Production Program call for proposals on accelerating the development of emerging technologies for the Canadian plant protein sector

1. Program overview

The goal of the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Sustainable Protein Production (SPP) program, one of the NRC's Global Innovation Cluster Support programs, is to add value to plant-based proteins and their co-products and to move them up the value chain. We support the Protein Industries Canada (PIC) global innovation cluster by collaborating on projects and carrying out research to help Canadian industry address challenges by adopting sustainable production practices and innovations in processing and manufacturing.

The NRC's mission is to have an impact by advancing knowledge, applying leading-edge technologies and working with other innovators to find creative, relevant and sustainable solutions to Canada's current and future economic, social and environmental challenges.

2. Objectives and scope

This call for proposals is to facilitate the development of new technologies and processes that can result in more sustainable practices in the production, processing and manufacturing of plant protein in Canada. This call focuses on both emerging technologies as well as those in early-stage development and that offer novel or cutting-edge solutions to technology gaps and improve the quality and utility of the protein obtained from plant-based sources. Priority will be given to projects that challenge the status quo with novel, innovative and potentially disruptive solutions for improving Canada's position as a global leader in supplying sustainable plant protein and plant protein-based products to domestic and international markets.

The NRC will collaborate with industrial partners and provide funding for the partner to:

  • generate preliminary experimental data for nascent technologies still at the conceptual stage,
  • carry out prototyping and proof-of-function studies for concepts at technology readiness levels 1, 2 or 3, or
  • conduct feasibility assessments for targeted applications.

Applicants are not required to have intellectual property (IP) protection in place, but the potential to generate IP is a metric of novelty and will be considered during the assessment process.

In general, incremental improvements to existing or more mature protein processing technologies are not considered within scope unless the proposed project involves novel approaches for improving or enhancing the technology in a way that substantively re-imagines or alters the end product or process and requires new experimental data.

3. Eligible projects

The NRC will consider only projects that improve the sustainability, productivity and global competitiveness of the Canadian plant protein sector.

Projects must:

  • involve a novel technology solution with the potential to improve the quality or utility of protein obtained from plant-based sources,
  • involve a Canadian small or medium-sized enterprise (SME, less than 500 employees), who is prepared to work in partnership with an NRC researcher
  • align with existing NRC expertise and capabilities, and
  • be at the technology readiness level 1, 2 or 3.

Examples of target projects

This proposal targets technology solutions that demonstrate the potential to improve the quality and utility of plant-based proteins and with specific and quantifiable outcomes such as:

  • increased protein purity or yield during fractionation
  • improved nutritional value or dietary utility of plant-based proteins
  • reduced presence of adverse components, such as anti-nutritionals and other factors that impede dietary adoption, for example, off-flavours
  • increased overall efficiency and cost-competitiveness of existing protein processing technologies in a way that directly improves the quality or value of the protein product
  • novel protein fractionation technologies
  • improved safety of the protein product, for example, through reduced risk of contamination
  • novel uses for a protein product and related materials other than for human dietary consumption

Priority will be given to projects that reflect a balance of strategic priorities, future directions and current gaps or needs in the plant protein sector and that align with the mandate of the SPP program. This initiative complements the existing SPP process for partnering and project development.

Technology solutions that are outside the projects targeted by this call for proposal but that are consistent with the mandate and objectives of the SPP program may be considered under other channels.

4. Eligible applicants

  • Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) prepared to work with an NRC researcher

The NRC will assess the commitment of all applicants to equity, diversity and inclusion. You are invited to consult the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's guide on Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research.

5. Eligible costs

Examples of eligible costs:

  • salaries for high quality personnel (HQP) working on the project
  • research support costs: direct costs incurred during the implementation phase of the project, such as consumable materials and supplies, and equipment rentals and rent, such as rental cost for facilities or equipment required specifically for the project
  • reasonable costs for research equipment, such as testing tools, instruments, computer equipment and security equipment
  • information technology costs, including for high-performance computers and secure servers
  • fit-up costs for facilities of recipients during the implementation phase to accommodate the proposed equipment (implementation phase is defined as the period during which the equipment is acquired, delivered, installed and commissioned)
  • costs related to installation, commissioning and testing of equipment during the implementation phase: salaries, student stipends, contractor and consultant fees, travel expenses and accommodations
  • expenditures on transportation, accommodation and meals incurred by the applicant while undertaking the project
  • professional fees invoiced to the applicant for contractor services related directly to the project
  • up to 10% of total eligible indirect costs, defined as expenditures that are not readily identified with the project but that were incurred during the project and necessary in order to conduct the recipient's general business

Examples of ineligible costs:

  • purchase of land, leasehold interest in land and property taxes
  • expenditures subject to refunds, rebates or credits such as HST, PST and GST paid
  • costs incurred by the NRC

6. Funding and support

Funding is disbursed by the NRC's National Program Office under the terms and conditions of the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program (CSTIP). CSTIP aims to establish the NRC as a collaborative platform that leverages scientific excellence to tackle Canada's most pressing challenges. As such, successful projects will benefit from the NRC's assets (special-purpose research facilities, scientific expertise and networks) and financial assistance to the recipient's organization in the form of non-repayable grants or contributions. For more information on available funding, consult the grant and contribution funding FAQs for collaborators.

The CSTIP expects to make a total of $600,000 available to support projects under this call for proposals, with up to $100,000 per year to be awarded per successful project for a maximum of 2 years.

Cost-sharing and stacking

Through this call for proposals, the SPP program will cover up to 75% of a recipient's total eligible project costs to a maximum of $100,000 per year.

The maximum total assistance provided by Canadian governments (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal) cannot exceed 100% of the total eligible costs of the project.

Application process and timelines

The NRC is committed to ensuring a consistent, fair and transparent process for identifying, selecting and funding projects that best meet the objectives of this call for proposals.

Expressions of interest (EOIs) are assessed on the basis of the criteria in Annex A, with only the most promising projects moving on to the full project proposal (FPP) stage, which will undergo peer review. Applicants may be required to submit additional information at different stages of the assessment process.

Applicants invited to submit an FPP will be notified and provided with the FPP template form to be completed and details of any additional requirements. To be considered, the applicant must provide all mandatory information. Note that an invitation to submit an FPP is not a commitment from the NRC to provide funding.

Key dates and deadlines

  • February 6, 2023 – Call for proposals opens
  • April 6, 2023 – Deadline to submit expression of interest
  • May 1, 2023 – The NRC sends out invitations to submit a full project proposal
  • June 15, 2023 – Deadline to submit full project proposal
  • July 31, 2023 – Completion of assessment process
  • Early August 2023 – Notifications of final results to applicants  
  • As of December 1, 2023 – Project and funding disbursements begin

Expression of interest

To receive an expression of interest (EOI) form, send an email to

Complete the EOI form and email it together with the required attachments to the Sustainable Protein Production program to no later than 8 p.m. EST on April 6, 2023, with the subject line: Sustainable Protein Production EOI proposal.

Applicants must provide the following project outline information in their EOI:

  • applicant information, including primary contact, mailing address and organization information
  • project information: sector, focus area, project type, project details and project timelines and, if the proposed project is dependent on other funding sources or additional collaborators, letters of support
  • budget and partners: total amount being requested, all anticipated financial and non-financial partners and a summary of any anticipated support from an NRC research centre, for example, total value of expected NRC in-kind support
  • project summary: methodology, project team, alignment with scope, gap addressed, innovativeness, uptake potential, environmental impact, and economic or social impacts

See Annex A for the EOI selection criteria.

In addition to the project outline, the EOI must include:

  • An abridged curriculum vitae (CV) for the project principal investigator and the NRC principal investigator as well as for all other key members of the team (must be a maximum of 4 US letter size pages and clearly indicate the individual's current affiliation and their status at that organization)

Note: Save all CVs together in a single PDF file.

  • The NRC principal investigator must provide evidence of support for the submission by the NRC research centre either by writing a letter of support or by providing a copy of an email from their corresponding director of research and development, saved as a PDF file.

An applicant may withdraw their EOI at any stage of the evaluation process by notifying the NRC in writing by email. Applicants must submit an EOI to be eligible to submit a proposal for further funding consideration.

Full project proposal stage

Following the EOI stage, projects considered to be the most promising will be invited to submit an FPP, which will be evaluated by a peer review committee. The NRC will provide the selected project teams with the FPP template form to be completed and further guidance.

A representative of the NRC's National Program Office will do an administrative review of all FPPs received to ensure they are complete and that the team for the proposed project is still eligible for funding. Incomplete submissions or submissions that do not meet the requirements will not be assessed any further. FPPs received after the submission deadline will not be considered. Any documents submitted in the FPP that are not required will be removed from the proposal before it is sent for peer review.

After the administrative review is completed, the FPPs will be submitted to the Sustainable Protein Production project peer review committee and evaluated by external subject matter experts based on the criteria provided in Annex A. Assessment of FPPs will be solely based on the information and documents submitted.

Due diligence assessment

After the peer review process is completed, all successful applications will undergo a due diligence assessment, which includes an evaluation of the project's finances, technical risk and team risk. The NRC may ask applicants to provide additional information at this stage. All applicants will be notified whether their project has passed the due diligence assessment, and applicants whose projects have passed the assessment will be invited to work with the NRC's National Program Office to sign and execute a funding agreement.

Funding agreement

Upon receipt of a notice of funding approval, applicants must enter into a funding agreement with the NRC. Only material changes to the proposal will be considered to the funding agreement. If the terms of the funding agreement cannot be finalized within a reasonable time, funding may be reallocated to other projects.

7. General terms and conditions

Commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and gender-based analysis plus

Project teams must clearly demonstrate their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) in their research applications, including make-up of their project teams, research methods, analysis and knowledge-mobilization plans. EDI considerations and a plan for GBA+ analysis form part of the proposal scoring criteria. Undertaking GBA+ and critically considering factors related to EDI not only adds valuable dimensions in research and improves the quality, social relevance and impact of the research but also may take the research in a new direction. EDI and GBA+ considerations should influence all stages of the research or development process, from establishing priorities and building theory to formulating questions, designing methodologies and interpreting data. Applicants are invited to consult the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's guide on Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research.

Ethics and the responsible conduct of research

Any individual or organization that receives funding must demonstrate the highest standards of research ethics and scientific integrity. This includes a declaration by the principal investigator or project administrator, on behalf of the research team and their organizations, that there are no real or apparent conflicts of interest that could influence the application and evaluation processes. This also includes a commitment to comply with any other ethics and integrity rules that may be applicable at the location where the research will be conducted. Each research team member must comply with the NRC's ethical rules and policies of responsible conduct of research policies. Consult the NRC research and scientific integrity policy.

Sharing permissions

In order to facilitate co-funding, the NRC works in partnership with other funding organizations across Canada. By giving the NRC the authority to share your proposal with other federal, provincial or territorial funders, you consent to the NRC exploring possible co-funding opportunities. The NRC will not share proposals without first seeking formal consent.

Proactive disclosure

Applicants acknowledge that the NRC must comply with the Government of Canada's Guidelines on the Reporting of Grants and Contributions Awards, which require that the NRC publish information about all awarded grants and contributions. Information published can include but is not limited to the identity of the applicant, project title, summary description of the project and project objectives. Applicants acknowledge that the NRC may publish the required information on its website or through other NRC channels.

Intellectual property

The development of new intellectual property (IP) is not a requirement for projects. However, the potential to generate new IP is beneficial for the uptake of any new technology and will be considered during the assessment process.

Any IP that results from a project will be managed according to CSTIP IP terms, which can be found at Grant and contribution funding for collaborators - National Research Council Canada.

Annex A: Assessment criteria for expressions of interest

The following criteria are assessed for all expression of interest (EOI) applications. The information to be provided for each criterion is indicated.

  1. Methodology
    Describe how the project will be carried out (include a high-level description of the tasks and methodology).
    • Consider the following questions:
      • Does the project have a well-developed methodology?
      • Does the description explain how the project will be carried out, including a high-level description of the tasks and methodology?
      • Is the methodology logical and viable?
  2. Project team and resources
    Detail the roles and capabilities of your researchers, organization and any collaborators, and their capacity to both undertake the work for the duration of the project and provide continued support following completion. Clearly articulate the expected role of NRC researchers.
    • Consider the following questions:
      • Do the project manager, technical or scientific team, and partner organizations have the ability and capacity to deliver the project for the duration of the project?
      • Does the team have the required expertise to complete this project?
      • Does the team have a history of collaboration?
      • Are the roles clearly defined and input required from the different partners clearly identified?
      • What is the percentage of work allocated to each member of the team?
  3. Alignment with scope
    Provide a clear statement of how the project addresses the objective and scope of the call for proposal.
    • Consider the following question:
      • Is the project within scope, e.g. aligns with the program and the focus area identified, and in particular, does the project propose a novel technology solution with the potential to improve the quality or the utility of protein from plant-based sources?
  4. Addressing a gap
    Provide a clear statement of the technology and knowledge gaps that the project will address and explain how the project will address them.
    • Consider the following question:
      • Does the project address a significant gap that could potentially lead to further advancements, demonstrations or commercial deployment (provide rationale)?
  5. Innovation
    Indicate how the proposed project is innovative or novel. Provide information on similar projects being undertaken in Canada and elsewhere and describe how this project is different.
    • Consider the following questions:
      • Is the project sufficiently novel or innovative?
      • Will the project result in a clear advancement of the proposed technology?
  6. Uptake potential
    Clearly articulate the anticipated key outcomes, e.g. intellectual property, prototypes, business case or feasibility of a demonstrated technology, the expected beneficiaries of the products in Canada and abroad, and the replicability or uptake potential of the project.
    • Consider the following questions:
      • If the project is successfully completed, are there clear opportunities for future uptake and replication in Canada?
  7. Environmental impact
    Describe any potential environmental impacts if the project is successful.
    • Consider the following question:
      • If there are potential environmental impacts, do they address the overall environmental objectives of the program?
  8. Economic or social benefits
    Describe any potential economic or social benefits if the project is successful, e.g. reduced costs, new revenue streams, job creations, public confidence or support, etc.
    • Consider the following question:
      • Are the potential economic or social benefits of the project significant and do they address the economic goals of the program?