New $60m US protein meal plant build gets underway

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Amarita
© GettyImages/Amarita
The South Dakota-based, Prairie Aquatech, is building a new facility to expand production capacity for its fermented, soybean-based protein meal, targeted at fish feed.

The groundbreaking ceremony on the new site took place on May 1. The company wants to shift from 2,000-gallon fermentation tanks to 40,000-gallon ones.

The company says the $60m raised for the project includes $45m for construction, $10m for operating capital and $5m to develop new products.

The company had been operating out of a pilot-scale facility for several years while it worked to de-risk its fermented soybean meal-based protein ingredient called Microbially-Enhanced Protein or ME-PRO and build an initial customer base, said Mark Luecke, managing director and CEO of Prairie Aquatech.

The move to a larger facility is set to help the company meet a growing demand for its feed protein.

“It’s a pretty big scale up from where we are today,” ​he told FeedNavigator. “We’re expecting to produce about 30,000 tons of the ME-PRO ingredient, of that product, on an annual basis.”

The company has started site work and is anticipating about a 12-month construction timeline, he said. The goal is to have operations start in about the second quarter of 2019.

Feed production and use

The protein product produced is expected to help extend the use of animal-based proteins like fishmeal or poultry meal, he said.

“Our primary customer is the feed manufacturer.

“We’re trying to think about this from their perspective and we know that ingredient availability is, or can be, an issue and that’s just being able to access certain animal-based proteins,”​ he added.

The protein meal may be of interest to producers struggling with phosphorus discharge as it has improved phosphorus bioavailability, he said.

“We have 70% protein on an as fed basis – the protein concentration is one thing that is important,” ​said Luecke. "Digestibility is important - 100% is being digested in rainbow trout,”​ he added.

“There are certain aspects of our process that enhance the availability of all the amino acids,”​ he claimed “And the other thing is, it’s great to have high protein, digestible protein, but if it’s not palatable the fish won’t eat it, and we’ve studied that – in bioprocessing you can cause non-palatable elements, and we’ve been careful about that.”

Ingredient transparency   

The new, 300,000 square foot facility will be co-located with an independent soybean processing facility South Dakota Soybean Processors in Volga, South Dakota, said Luecke. The company has worked with the soybean processors for several years.

“They’ve been a good partner of ours since the inception,”​ he said.

Additionally, the processors are able to process soybeans through both a solvent-extraction method and an expeller process, he said. Contracts have been established with soybean producers who grow certified non-biotech soybeans, which then can be processed without chemicals through the expeller system.

“There are segments of the market where that’s important – a non-GMO, plant-based [aquafeed protein] source and we’re excited about that,” ​he said. “We have access to both conventional soybean meal and non-genetically modified soybean meal.”

The options for specialty, high-quality plant-based proteins for use in aquafeeds are limited in the US, said Luecke. “We know there’s a market need in North America,” ​he added.

“Ingredient transparency through the feed formulation is becoming increasingly important to customers,” ​he said. “Being able to provide a local, US-based, non-GMO [product] that meets all the other criteria that is something unique that we can offer, and we’re excited to be able to do that.”

Initially, the company is focused on the market in the US, he said. “The initial market will be the US’ growing Atlantic salmon industry, and we have an important trout industry here,”​ he added.

However, the plan is to expand to provide products to aquaculture producers in Canada and Mexico, he said. The company has already run some feeding trials with the fish species raised in Mexico.

The current pilot facility will continue to operate after the new facility comes on-line, said Luecke. “Prairie AquaTech is a technology development company – we have an experienced product development team that has years in the aquaculture industry as nutritionists and feed formulators,”​ he added.

The pilot site also had a recirculating aquaculture system and a small feed mill, which has been used to generate trial feeds to test the protein ingredient, he said.  “We’ve got a product development pipeline for products in the aquaculture and we’ll continue to do that at the pilot scale facility,”​ he added.

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