Douglas Martin won May’s Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award, which targets young entrepreneurs, for his business, MiAlgae.
Omega-3 fatty acid or protein replacement in fish feed are potential targets for the finished product.
His model is based on cultivating nutrient rich microalgae in giant stainless steel tanks using wastewater from the local whisky industry.
The synthetic biology graduate has managed to attract private investment for the project, along with a Scottish Enterprise grant to fund one year’s worth of research and development.
We caught up with him to hear more.
“We are still very much an early stage project. We are still not sure of what volumes we can produce yet or what would be the levels of DHA and EPA in the final product. We are still in the lab, if you like.”
Low cost model
However, the interest in the project has stemmed from the fact it offers a cost optimized microalgae production model.
“The reason that we can make it low cost is that we use nitrates and phosphates from whisky co-products to offset the nutrient costs associated with microalgal production."
Martin is also hoping to capture the excess heat from the whisky production and use it in his fermentation process.
“We would be looking to set up a plant beside a whisky producer and we are in contact with an industry player in relation to that. They are enthused by the fact that our production is heterotrophic, as that will allow us to scale up a lot quicker.
“Though, we are also evaluating other waste streams – from breweries or anaerobic digestion - to cover our ability to grow.”
Martin is the CEO of MiAlgae, and a full-time scientific officer starts next month. “He will help to valorize the biomass and determine whether there could be one or two feed ingredient streams from it.”
The start-up team also includes advisors and non-executive directors to guide the project to pilot stage and beyond: “We are hoping to carry out fish feed trials in the next year, and to set up a small pilot plant within that timeframe. That will not be a massive pilot plant unit. We have enough capital to rent some equipment but to do a full-on commercial pilot trial, we will need more investment.”
He has global ambitions for MiAlgae but would prioritize the Scottish aquaculture sector in the early commercialization phase.