Special Edition: Environmentally friendly feed sector initiatives

Carbon Trust runs the numbers on Calysta's gas to feed protein

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

FeedKind protein has minimal land use and water requirements compared to many terrestrial based fish feed ingredients, says The Carbon Trust. Image © Calysta
FeedKind protein has minimal land use and water requirements compared to many terrestrial based fish feed ingredients, says The Carbon Trust. Image © Calysta

Related tags Methane Natural gas

The sustainability profile of Calysta’s methane gas to feed protein, FeedKind, could be bumped up if its production involved the use of biogas, but its land and water resource saving metrics are solid, finds a report from UK agency, the Carbon Trust.

The paper​provides a detailed analysis of FeedKind protein, which would be supplied as dry powder or pellets, taking into account a variety of environmental sustainability criteria, and concludes it offers significant advantages over current fish feed ingredients. It was shown to use 77-98% less water than raw materials like soy and wheat proteins.

FeedKind production process:

The protein product is formed during the fermentation of methanotrophic microorganisms with small amounts of scavenger microorganisms to assist in culture stability, along with methane, ammonia and mineral salts. Natural gas or other methane source is pumped through a specialized fermenter, and the microorganisms metabolise the gas as their sole source of energy, producing a high-protein biomass.

Wet product is extracted from the fermenter and dried, before being pelletised and packaged for shipping. Typically the fermenter will run for seven weeks continuously, before requiring three days of cleaning. The cycle will then repeat.

Tom Cumberlege, a senior consultant at The Carbon Trust and one of the report’s authors, said: “FeedKind protein meets these requirements by requiring minimal land and water resources with the added potential of a low carbon footprint when using renewable sources of energy and biogas.”

CEO of Calysta, Alan Shaw, welcomed the findings on the product's environmental footprint status.

He said as the global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050 with up to 70% more food required, production to meet this need must be sustainable, and lower water use and land use are keys to reaching that goal. “The report shows that FeedKind protein meets that test.” 

Methane gas to feed protein FeedKind

Shaw said the company is exploring options to cover a percentage of the production of its fishmeal alternative with sustainable sources of methane created from municipal solid waste. It is also looking at renewable sources of electricity supply, and is sourcing alternatives to the vegetable oil used in the pelleting process.

In addition to those investigations, Calysta is examining the potential of deploying carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at their site to capture the carbon dioxide released during the fermentation process and exhaust gases from the drying unit.

Fossil fuel reliance for scale-up

But Shaw told us he is wary of what he termed “greenwashing”​ from some quarters in relation to the eco parameters of protein produced by natural gas fed fermentation technology:

Let’s be realistic here. It is all very well talking about relying on renewable sources of energy for single cell protein production, but, currently, there is not enough biogas available anywhere to support large scale production of such fish feed ingredients.

“Our Cargill backed plant in the US, set to go on stream in Q4 2018, is going to have massive output. And, in order to get that business operational and profitable to provide a large volume of protein, we have to have access to a cheap and plentiful gas source.

“Once FeedKind is commercialized and economically viable, we can invest more capital in R&D aimed at helping us use biogas alternatives,”​ he added.

In the US, cheap natural gas has come about through the rapid development of the fracking industry: “That is partly true. Natural gas prices were on downward trend already even before the growth of the fracking business. Anyhow, in the US, it depends where production is located as to whether the gas source would be fracking industry derived. We don’t anticipate using such a source for our new plant. Cargill is right now confirming the location of the site for that facility,”​ said Shaw.

Carbon Trust Report​ Findings:

"FeedKind protein is not currently in commercial production. This product footprint is based on data from a decommissioned facility, in Norway, that had a production capacity of approximately 10,000 tons per annum.

"Calysta will use both natural gas and electricity from the US National grid as the primary inputs to the fermentation process. The results of the product footprint analysis conclude that the final pelletized FeedKind protein product has the following product footprint:

Carbon: 5,819 kgCO2e/ton of product
Water: 18.982 m3/ton of product
Land Use: 33.99 m2/ton of product

"When FeedKind protein is produced with both biogas and renewable electricity it has a carbon footprint that is comparable to or better than many other feed sources. However, evaluating the environmental impact based on purely the carbon footprint does not provide a complete picture of the potential benefits of the product.

"FeedKind protein has minimal land use and water requirements compared to many terrestrial based fish feed ingredients. Compared on this basis, FeedKind protein offers a significant advantage as land and water will become more valuable assets in the future when meeting the challenge of feeding a growing population. Similarly as global fish stocks remain under severe pressure it is important to identify alternatives to fish meal.

"The protein content of the feed is one of the most important factors to evaluate when considering alternatives to conventional fish feed ingredients. As FeedKind protein has a high protein content, its carbon footprint per ton of protein can be comparable if not lower than many conventional fish feed ingredients, including fishmeal. However this is only when renewables are utilized in its production.

"Finally, the future development of carbon capture and storage technology would enable FeedKind protein to provide a truly sustainable fish feed by providing feed that has a negative carbon footprint."

Calysta is to open an R&D and market introduction facility in the UK for further development of the commercial production process for its protein. The facility is expected to open in early 2017. 

R&D at Calysta

In February, the US producer revealed it had generated $30m in Series C funding with Cargill, the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS) of Michigan and Old Westbury Global Real Assets Fund LLC. 

Also participating were current  investors Walden Riverwood Ventures, Aqua-Spark and Pangaea Ventures. In addition to the funding, Calysta said Cargill will collaborate with it in the North American manufacturing and global marketing of its protein.

The Carbon Trust report can be read​ here.

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