Finnish model envisages pig farmers making protein feed from manure

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Methane

Researchers are looking to generate protein for animal feed from biogas production sited on pig farms, reducing dependency on imported proteins like soy.

The Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) is exploring a model based on producing a protein generated by methane gas from on-farm biogas production using manure.

The model involves the growth of methanotrophic bacteria in aerobic conditions in gas fermenters, using methane as the source for carbon and energy. A growth medium containing the methanotrophic bacteria circulates through the pipes of the gas fermenter, creating a biomass with a protein content of around 60%. The cell mass is filtered, pasteurized and dried. 

vtt protein model
VTT single cell animal feed protein production model © VTT

The scientist attached to the project, Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, told us the technology is somewhat similar to that being used by Calysta, the US firm producing protein derived from single cell bacteria and to the production model of Denmark’s Unibio.

“But our model is much more small scale. We are looking at two options: one is for farmers to invest in biogas production using manure from the farm. They would install a small reactor as well as separators and spray driers and produce a feed protein directly on site.

“Realistically, only pig farmers with a minimum of 1,000 pigs could participate as they would be able to generate enough raw material to compensate for the treatment costs required.

"The other option is to set up a central processing unit that would collect cell biomass from the biogas operations on those farms, similar to the way milk is collected from dairy producers, and then produce the feed protein centrally and redistribute it to poultry producers," ​said Pitkänen.

Up until now, the VTT has been working on the development of these small scale reactors, with are two cubic meters in size, along with optimizing the production process.   

single cell protein VTT
Single cell protein produced using VTT reactor © VTT

There is still additional development work to complete and trials to be conducted with broilers, said the scientist.

The VTT, explained Pitkänen, will collaborate on biogas production and animal testing with the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, which has a farm with a biogas production facility on site.

He said the center has applied for a €500K grant from the Finnish ministry of agriculture to support this initiative and the team is now waiting for the outcome of that selection process - the winning project will be notified at the end of next month. “The grant, were we to be awarded it, would bring us forward at least two years,” ​said Pitkänen.

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