Producing sustainable products efficiently while supporting local suppliers is a win-win-win – for customers, the environment, and the local economy. Pannonia Bio, Europe’s leading biorefinery, has always delivered on all three fronts. Now it is expanding from corn into barley, a grain that offers great untapped opportunities in food and feed. Pannonia Bio is transforming how we see grain.

- Janet Anderson, June 2024

In the heart of Hungary, Pannonia Bio is a company leading the transition to a more sustainable economy. Founded just over a decade ago, it is now a major player in the growing bioeconomy – an economy that uses renewable raw materials in place of fossil-based raw materials.

The journey began when Mark Turley, an Irish entrepreneur, spotted an opportunity in biofuels. Turley brought together a team of experts and engineers from the brewing industry and beyond, all of whom shared an appetite for working fast and innovating. Through his company ClonBio Group, he founded Pannonia Bio and built a corn (maize) ethanol plant on the banks of the Danube. The plant evolved rapidly. “We are the largest ethanol production facility in Europe, and the world’s most advanced grain biorefinery,” says Turley. Pannonia Bio produces a range of products from fuel to animal feed and fertilizer − all processed from the starch, fiber, oil, and proteins in locally grown corn.

Pannonia Bio is still evolving. Today it is exploring the opportunities offered by another grain – barley. “Three years ago, we decided we wanted to be a food company, to make high protein products for humans at a low-cost price that people want to eat, with no chemicals in them. We believe there is a big market for that,” says Turley.

"We buy our corn predominantly from Hungarian farmers. We are one of the biggest investors in the region, a major employer, and have built a close relationship with the local community."


Sustainable in every way

In everything it does, Pannonia Bio relies on cutting-edge bio-based production processes, offering sustainable alternatives to fossil-based products. “We want to get the most out of every grain,” Turley explains. “We also want to be the lowest cost producer in whatever we do.”

Located in the center of Hungary’s corn-growing area, Pannonia Bio’s principal feedstock is corn – an ideal grain for biofuels as it has a starch content of around 70 percent. Over 200 trucks deliver corn to the plant every day. “We buy our corn predominantly from Hungarian farmers,” says Pavel Kudriavtcev, Chief Executive Officer of Pannonia Bio. “More than 400 farmers, big and small, supply Pannonia Bio and are paid straight away. We are one of the biggest investors in the region, a major employer, and have built a close relationship with the local community.”

Healy and Fleck inspect the cleaning section of the facility, one of many key steps in separating fiber from the ground material.

In the bioethanol plant, the corn kernels are milled into flour and then, in a process similar to brewing, turned into a slurry. Enzymes are added to break the starch down into sugars. These are fermented to make a “beer” and then distilled to make highly concentrated alcohol. This is either sold as fuel-grade bioethanol – a climate-friendly substitute for petrol for the transportation sector – or it goes to the chemical, cosmetics, and beverage industries. After the ethanol production process is finished, the stillage – the residue from the manufacture of alcohol from grain – still contains nutritious elements.

Separating out the water produces dried distillers’ grain with solubles – DDGS. This is used as an animal feed for cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens. Oil is also extracted from the stillage, as it is both nutritious and valuable, and sold primarily to the poultry industry. “This is essentially what a biorefinery does,” says Michael Healy, Technical Director, ClonBio Engineering. “It enables us to extract material that has a higher value than the original material it came from.”

Pannonia Bio’s first contact with Bühler came in 2017, when the company started looking at a further separation process prior to fermentation. “Corn has about 9 percent fiber. This fiber has value, as it can be sold as animal feed. However, separating fiber from flour is difficult,” says Healy. “In a very short period, Bühler helped us to develop and build a corn-fiber separation plant on site to carry out this process.”

The corn fiber is used to produce animal feed and is also converted into biogas through anaerobic digestion. The methane purified out of this process is a valuable renewable natural gas. Pannonia Bio utilizes it to enhance energy efficiency in its own production processes, or sells it as biomethane to its customers. But it doesn’t end there. The residues of the anaerobic digestion process contain nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium – the primary chemicals in fertilizer. The company sells the plant-based organic fertilizer mostly to the same farmers they buy the corn from. “This is a great example of the circular economy,” says Healy. “By providing plant-based organic fertilizer, we help the farmers to reduce the environmental footprint of their operations.” The rest of the biogas is made into liquid natural gas and injected into the grid. Meanwhile, Pannonia Bio has further plans for the fiber. “We want to make soluble fiber, a probiotic for human food,” explains Turley.

Raw barley: cleaned and ready to be ground.

The human food market is the next big step for Pannonia Bio, and this means moving into protein separation, and also a different grain − barley. Barley is normally used in the feed and brewing industries. “Barley was fascinating for us because it has some interesting characteristics,” says Turley. “In Hungary, as in many countries, it is only used as a rotation crop. But it has more potential than that as its protein is highly digestible.” To take advantage of this opportunity, Pannonia Bio embarked on building the first commercial-scale barley concentrate protein plant. The plant will use as a raw material the barley grown in Hungary. “We decided to go for 300,000 tonnes a year, which is about 20 percent of all the barley grown in this country,” Healy explains. “We’re not short on ambition!”

We buy our corn predominantly from Hungarian farmers. We are one of the biggest investors in the region, a major employer, and have built a close relationship with the local community.


To carry out the plan, Pannonia Bio turned again to Bühler. “We were impressed by our first interaction. When Bühler built our corn fiber extraction plant, nothing like it existed anywhere else in the world, so it was a learning curve. The Bühler team didn’t walk away, they stayed with us until we got what we wanted,” says Turley.

The barley process has two parts, dry and wet. Bühler solutions take care of the entire dry process, which comes first, from intake, cleaning, handling, and removal of foreign particles through to milling. “We brought over 160 years of experience in milling to this project as well as our deep knowledge of processing grains into high-value food and feed products,” says Dirk-Michael Fleck, Head of Sales Market Segment Biorefinery at Bühler.

Watch the video for more about the collaboration and technology behind Pannonia Bio.

A world first

For Fleck, Pannonia Bio’s move into barley protein is an impressive achievement. “This is the first large-scale industrial plant in the world for gaining high- value, plant-based proteins from barley,” he says. “You will not find a similar solution on that scale anywhere else in the world.”

It is also a good example of how Bühler works with its customers to develop a unique solution. “At our Application & Training Center in Uzwil we developed the optimal milling process to produce the right flour to get the protein extraction that Pannonia Bio required,” says Fleck. “We gained an understanding of the process beyond our scope to make an exact piece of a puzzle to fit their unique plant.”

"This is the first large-scale industrial plant in the world for gaining high-value, plant-based proteins from barley."


There were challenges along the way. One of these was that the Pannonia Bio plant is a 24/7 operation. The plant runs more than 8,200 hours a year and is controlled remotely. The Bühler team therefore installed the latest milling technology, with a quality management system in the silo and the mill, and temperature and vibration sensors in the roller mill. With the addition of Bühler Insights, the whole system can be tracked and controlled remotely.

“The Pannonia Bio team brought their visionary entrepreneurship and their outstanding speed in turning ideas into large-scale industrials solutions,” says Fleck. “They are fast and innovative, and that is the way to compete successfully in these markets.”

Market potential

In the milling section, MDDZ Diorit roller mills grind the barley into the desired particle size

Initially, the principal market Pannonia Bio sees for barley protein is aquaculture and pet food. Currently, one of the main ingredients for intensively farmed fish is soy protein. However, soy protein can affect the digestive system of the fish, especially in salmon and trout. “The barley has to be carefully dehulled because fish do not like fiber in their diet,” says Healy. “It is quite hard to do this. But we were able to do trials with the Bühler team, and through these we found the solutions.”

After the flour is made, hot water is added to make a slurry and then enzymes to break down the starch to glucose and sugars. The glucose is separated from the protein, which is then dried and pelletized. The finished product has a minimum of 60 percent protein and is already sold for aquaculture in Norway, Scotland, and Portugal. Typical of Pannonia Bio, nothing goes to waste. The fiber that is separated from the barley is also used for biogas production or pelletized and ship-ped out as animal feed, and the glucose fraction is blended in the corn plant with the corn mash to make more ethanol.

Bioeconomy set to expand

With the new barley protein concentrate plant up and running, Pannonia Bio is now working to bring barley protein to the food industry. “Everything we do increases the portfolio of products we make. We are now starting this journey with the major food companies. They are looking for ingredients that are produced in a sustainable fashion and are pushing us to upgrade this to a food plant,” says Healy.

To achieve their goals, Pannonia Bio is constantly looking at how the biorefinery can be used to upcycle more side streams and develop new, more efficient processes. In doing so, they can benefit not only from Bühler’s competence in grain milling and processing, but also its access into the food and feed industry to develop new food and feed products. “Our expertise in aqua feed, pet food, animal nutrition, human nutrition, plant-based protein extrusion, and insect technology all come together in the field of biorefinery,” says Fleck. “Working in this industry is very exciting but also complex and challenging. With our ecosystem at Bühler, we can be a significant pillar in this industry.”

I’m convinced that in five years’ time we’ll be known not only as a biorefinery but also as a food company.


For Healy, the breadth and depth of expertise are the decisive factors. “Bühler experts have immense experience in the grain industry. Without this, we would not have been able to do this project. Other people can supply pieces of equipment, but Bühler can do the whole scope and make the whole thing work the way we want,” he says.

As for Turley, he hasn’t finished expanding and exploring new markets yet. He sees huge potential in the bioeconomy, in Europe and beyond, and has plans to build more plants like the one in Hungary. “People want renewable fuels, and renewable and healthy products, and they want good value with no harm to the environment. We are a zero waste plant and the lowest cost producer in Europe of a wide range of innovative and sustainable products,” Turley explains. “Every day it’s a new initiative into a different area. I’m convinced that in five years’ time we will be known not only as a biorefinery but also as a food company.”