Can whisky derived feed help Scottish salmon sector swim with sustainability tide?

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

A Scottish start-up, Horizon Proteins, is collaborating with the country’s malt whisky industry to produce a sustainable locally produced salmon feed ingredient, and reduce dependence on imported feed proteins.

The researchers are using a co-product derived from the production of that type of whisky. Horizon Proteins said its patented process involves the removal of yeast and protein [from barley] from the pot ale stream as feed products.

In 2015, a pilot plant with the capacity to process one fifth of the daily pot ale output was designed, commissioned and installed on-site at a local distillery.

We recently carried out a Q&A​ with Julio Traub, Horizon Proteins technical manager, to get a sense of the trigger for the initiative and to hear about recent developments:

FeedNavigator: How did Horizons Protein come about? What is the legal status of the entity?

Julio Traub​: Horizon Proteins was originally a research project from Heriot-Watt University. In 2011 the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) awarded us £500m for a three year translational project to add value to food and drink by-products. The outcome of this project was so successful that, in 2014, Scottish Enterprise awarded us £600m for a two year project to commercialize our idea. We are now an independent company and have spun-out recently from the University. 

Heriot-Watt University has ties to the whisky industry going back to the 19th century; its scientists and engineers have worked for years to help distilleries find new ways to use their existing resources. The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) and International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) are also based on campus. 

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FeedNavigator: How do you collaborate with the Scottish malt whisky industry?

Julio Traub: Originally, we started to work with SWRI, trying to understand the needs of the whole Scotch whisky industry, both malt and grain, but now we are more focused on malt whisky and working closely with one particular distillery.

We are also working directly with feed companies.

FeedNavigator: Why the focus on salmon feed to begin with?

Julio Traub: We could theoretically customize the process to specific fish requirements, but, at the moment, we are working with Scottish Salmon Feed Producers and the majority of Scottish squaculture is Atlantic salmon (Salmo Salar).

It is a wonderful coincidence that barley proteins are particularly well suited for Atlantic salmon and these proteins have been tried before. But growing barley purely to feed salmon is a very expensive process and is not commercially viable. The use of barley for beer and whisky does not benefit from the proteins. We are taking the proteins that these industries do not use.

We shall investigate the qualities of protein from other grains used in the industry to see what use might be made of them. It is important to mention that the product resulting from this process willbe one of a range of ingredients in the fish feed pellet. Our goal is to replace traditional proteins used in salmon feeding such as fish meal and soybean meal, as the sustainability of those ingredients has been questioned both by consumers and the aquaculture sector.

FeedNavigator: What scientific evidence or trials are there to support Horizon Protein’s claim this malt whisky derived barley protein can be used as a direct replacement for fishmeal and soy meal in salmon feed in terms of digestibility, protein levels and cost?

Julio Traub: ​ Barley protein has been successfully used in numerous studies to assess its potential to substitute fish meal and soybean meals. Diets containing barley protein have exhibited a lower FCR to value than fish fed the commercial diet, suggesting that diets containing barley protein give better performance than the control diet with fish meal.

The barley protein Horizon Proteins is offering has a much higher purity than conventional barley protein concentrate. We are currently conducting fish trials with a major fish feed producer and we are gearing up to perform further studies to support the high potential of our product.

FeedNavigator:  In what facility are the feed proteins from recovered barley going to be produced? Who will manage it?

Julio Traub: Our plan is to install our protein processing plants next to the distilleries. Due to commercial sensitivities, we can’t talk about the specific location. Horizon Proteins will build and operate these plants.

FeedNavigator: How do you ensure a consistent supply of co-product?

Julio Traub:Since the ingredients used for whisky preparation are very consistent - water, barley and yeast - the by-products shows the same consistency too. There are, of course, some seasonal variations in barley, for example, but we have designed our process with the robustness to cope with these fluctuations of the raw materials.

FeedNavigator: How do you mitigate the risk of mycotoxin contamination?

Julio Traub:Mycotoxins are an issue we monitor closely in our production system. Although the main source of mycotoxin contamination comes from grain storage and pre-harvest infestation, the industries we are engaged with take sourcing of its raw material as a key manufacturing step. 

We perform regular proficiency testing for the most common mycotoxins in our starting material as well as the final dry protein powders. This permits to validate the efficiency of our testing procedure and the precision of the results and allows us to comply with customer demands, certifications and regulatory requirements. Furthermore, we continue to monitor mycotoxin levels particularly as we enter the later stages of storage.

FeedNavigator: When will the feed proteins be commercially available?

maceofoto barley

Julio Traub: Commercial production is projected to start in Q2 2017. Our first installations will be strategically located within major distilleries in Scotland.

FeedNavigator: Is Horizon Proteins planning to work with Scottish grain whisky producers as well?

Julio Traub:We shall investigate the qualities of protein from other grains used in the industry to see what use might be made of them.

FeedNavigator: Will you also look to develop new protein feeds for livestock sectors?

Julio Traub:Yes, there are other by-products sources we are also investigating and the applications can go from livestock sectors such as pigs and pets and also directly to human nutrition.

FeedNavigator: What about additional sources of funding?

Julio Traub:At the moment we are in negotiations with potential investors.

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