Natural gas derived feed protein could be three years from commercialization

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Natural gas derived feed protein could be three years from commercialization

Related tags: Nutrition, Protein, Amino acid

Three years from now feed manufacturers could be replacing soybeans and fishmeal with bacterial protein meal produced from natural gas which might otherwise be flared as a waste product.

Danish biotech firm UniBio has developed a patented fermentation technology – U-Loop technology – which enables natural gas to be converted into a single cell protein with an amino acid profile that is comparable to that of fish meal. 

It does this via a process in which bacteria ‘eat’ the C1 connections in the methane gas and thereby grow and are converted into protein granules through a traditional downstream process. 

From next September a pilot-scale U-Loop fermentor will be in operation at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) where a new fermentation center is being built as part of a research project partly funded by Denmark’s Innovation Fund. 

This represents the latest step in the commercialization of the U-Loop technology and the focus is now on adding value to UniProtein bacterial protein meal by manipulating the profile of the product.

UniBio is currently working in collaboration with DTU and Aarhus University to create a specific form of UniProtein in which the amino acid profile is tailored to pig feed. This project began at the start of November and Henrik Busch-Larsen, CEO of UniBio, told FeedNavigator they planned to test the new recipe next autumn, once the new center was up and running. 

At the same time, the Southern University of Denmark is carrying out a life cycle assessment of the single cell protein. 

“We are expecting a lot from this,”​ said Busch-Larsen. “When you look at the pressure on agricultural land and world fisheries, this is a much more sustainable source of protein. What’s more, by using natural gas for fermentation and production of single cell protein instead of flaring it, COemissions are reduced considerably.” 

Commercial production on the cards

“We’re looking three years into the future before we will have large scale commercial capabilities for UniProtein. The route would be to establish a commercial size facility in collaboration with industry partners,” ​said Busch-Larsen. 

He confirmed that partnerships were already in place, but would not disclose the names of the partner companies. 

He estimated that investment of US$70-80 million would be required to run a commercial scale plant capable of producing 25,000 tons of protein annually. 

“It is an attractive opportunity when you look at the market drivers. We’ve seen natural gas prices peel away from oil prices and fishmeal and soy protein prices are rising steadily year on year. There is huge demand for a new protein source with a low environmental impact.” 

Feed tests​ 

The single cell protein has been the subject of feeding tests with calves, pigs, chickens, salmon and rainbow trout. 

It achieved positive results in terms of acceptance and growth, plus increased resistance to disease was observed in some species. 

In one study, published in the journal Meat Science​, feeding pigs bacterial protein meal was found to improve the oxidative stability and sensory profile of the pork. In another study, published in the Archives of Animal Nutrition,​ replacing soybean protein with bacterial protein meal at a level of 6% was found to increase feed conversion efficiency and amino acid digestibility in broiler chickens.

“Bacterial protein meal produced on natural gas replacing soybean meal or fish meal in broiler chicken diets”
Archives of Animal Nutrition​, 09/2007; 61(4):276-91. DOI: 10.1080/17450390701431953
Authors: HF Schoyen, B Svihus, T Storebakken, A Skrede 

“Changes in fatty acid composition and improved sensory quality of backfat and meat of pigs fed bacterial protein meal”
Meat Science 71 (2005), 719–729
Authors: M Øverland, NP Kjos, E Olsen, A Skrede

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