The magnesium-aluminum-phyllosilicate mineral, attapulgite, is central to the animal feed and agricultural products produced by GeoHellas, which mines and optimizes attapulgite in northern Greece.
The highly absorbent rock is also found in the American south and West Africa. About a third of the world’s deposits is used to make clumping cat litter, another third is employed to mop up oil spills, while and the remainder is incorporated as a feed component.
The attapulgite has to undergo thermal treatment and mechanical activation to optimize its structure, enabling it to remove toxic elements present in feed, including zearalenones, fumonisins, T-2 and deoxynivalenol.
“The product, which is registered as a feed material, is incorporated in very small dosages, from 0.5kg to 2kg per ton,” said Nicolas Theophilou, development and sales director at GeoHellas.
“If toxins are present in the feed, you need to eliminate them. There is a great necessity to eliminate such scavengers from feed, feed production and in integrated farms.”
Its products, including Sanfed Ultra, which was recently launched on the Asia market in specific grades, are designed to remove mycotoxins from feed, and to help protect the gastrointestinal tract of animals by binding gases like ammonia alongside toxins and pathogenic bacteria from E.Coli and Clostridia, claimed the company. Doing so can help reduce diarrheas and mortality in newborns and weaned animals, Dr Theophilou added.
“The objective is to valorize a very rare mineral. There are four mines around our factories in northern Greece, and we exploit this mineral through different techniques and technologies for different applications,” he added.
Attapulgite can be blended with other synergistic ingredients, such as yeast and essential oils, which can have natural antibiotic properties, to offer better protection to toxins while boosting growth and performance, said the company.
GeoHellas, which produces some 160,000 tons of attapulgite annually and exports to around 50 countries, is also working on harnessing the mineral’s water-absorbent properties to develop another agricultural application in soil to reduce the amount of watering needed for pasture.
“The attapulgite binds water, which it can deliver slowly. In countries with less water, or with very high temperatures, it will help reduce irrigation and keep very healthy plantation.”
Dr Theophilou points to scientific evidence to back up claims that his Attapulgite-based products can be used to improve intestinal health and growth as an alternative to antibiotics.
“Obviously some new materials will come, like acidifiers and other natural products that can fill this space. By taking antibiotics out and using our natural products, you can reach the same growth and the same performance as with the antibiotics,” he said.
“We have run trials with some big institutions and found low concentrations can improve the aliveness of cells through attapulgite by 23-50%. These values are very similar to those of antibiotics, but we are substituting these with something natural.”
Indonesia, which announced a ban on antibiotics in animal feed at the beginning of last year, has provided GeoHellas with an increasing number of sales, while Vietnam, which made the same move at the same time, is proving “very interesting” to the company, with 5m sows and particularly sizeable potential from its swine feed industry.
Dr Theophilou acknowledges that China is “a more difficult country” in terms of access, but his company is launching an assault now with a local distributor and it hopes to expand into more business areas there.
“We also have some possibilities of investing in China—that’s one of our main goals for 2019. We have some proposals from near the Shanghai area to be part of some local schemes, though I cannot say more yet. We are looking to build the company there and exploit some local sources of attapulgite with our special technology.”