NovoNutrients: Skretting cooperation helps accelerate large-scale bacterial meal scale-up

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/
© GettyImages/

Related tags bacterial Protein SCP Salmon

US single cell protein (SCP) producer, NovoNutrients, says its novel feed protein product is being tested by leading fish feed manufacture, Skretting.

The California-based innovator, which develops protein meal through carbon capture and utilization for use in fast-growing fish and shrimp feed markets, has been selected to test at Skretting’s Aquaculture Research Centre facilities.

NovoNutrients is among a handful of sustainable innovations given a pioneering level of support within Skretting. It said the explicit goal is striking a procurement contract through which Skretting would commit to feed ingredients purchasing. 

The first product sample of the bacterial protein meal is being shipped to Skretting from NovoNutrients’ Silicon Valley lab. In 2021, samples will originate from one or both of NovoNutrients’ emissions pilot projects, which are planned at the sites of industrial carbon emitters in the US and Japan. 

The onset of the collaboration was an event organized in September 2019 by Project X in London, where innovators in the feed and aquaculture sectors, including NovoNutrients, presented on their technologies and how they could transform the industry’s performance.

Jenna Bowyer, Skretting's category manager for novel ingredients, told FeedNavigator: “We knew about NovoNutrients before that event, but that was the moment where we got to kick off this initiative.”

Skretting is weighing up a raft of novel ingredients to support a growing aqua feed industry, globally. “There is a huge demand for protein. A small percentage of that can be [supplied] by novel ingredients, and within those, I believe SCPs like NovoNutrients’ bacterial meal have a big role to play. We hope to see that, over time, they can be scalable and can be produced in high volumes with a small footprint, both in terms of space and environmental impact, that they are highly nutritious from a protein perspective, and are economical compared to some of the ingredients we are using in our current feed formulations.”

The Nutreco owned fish feed manufacturer has been working with a number of SCP producers. So why was NovoNutrients’ product selected for testing?

“We are looking at different locations as well as technologies. NovoNutrients is based in the US. We are also looking for flexibility within our ingredient basket. This is a new area for us and, in respect of SCPs. there is a lot to learn. The more that we can understand about the different technologies the easier we can fulfill our mission to have access to these high protein ingredients, and get them onto the market,” ​said Bowyer.

Salmon will be the first test species in this partnership. “Because the bacterial meal is high in protein and due to the relatively small volumes available [at this juncture], we will test it in salmon to start with, that is typically our model species.”

Skretting will look to validate and confirm the protein meal from nutritional, food safety, and processing perspectives, the standard parameters of its testing process. 

Depending on when the feed manufacturer can get enough sample material to make the test salmon feeds, the running of the feeding trials and analysis of the results would take around six to nine months, added Bowyer.

How long then before a purchasing contract would follow? 

“The key step is validating the product to determine how valuable the ingredient is within our feeds. Going on from that then really does depend on the next stage of scale-up of the NovoNutrients' technology in order to generate greater volumes. Though, we don’t have to have huge volumes to start with,” ​she said.

Microbiology in action novonutrients
Microbiology work at NovoNutrients' facility in the US © NovoNutrients

Scaling up bacterial meals

Where is the US company then in terms of that progression?

“Our largest systems today are floor-scale, able to be accommodated in our laboratory. We would be looking at 20X scale-up from here.

“While Skretting is a downstream partner, a potential user of what we make, we are setting up pilot projects with upstream partners, groups that provide us with our own feedstocks, which for us are carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The initial pilot partners for us, carbon emitters, are based in the US and Japan. Those projects should be producing in 2021,"​ NovoNutrients CEO, David Tze, told us.

The main purpose of those projects is, aside from being able to produce tons of sample material, is to show that the innovative part of the company's system, the fermenters, can scale up to that 20X from where they are at currently in its lab in Sunningdale, he added. 

CO2 streams

Many different sectors of emitters are compatible with the company’s technology, he said.  

One element that the Silicon Valley-based innovator looks for in potential CO2 streams is the level of nitrogen present. "The more nitrogen, the poorer our economics would be. In practice what we look for is the hydrogen​. There is plenty of CO2 to go around but the hydrogen economy is still in its infancy, and, so, finding either green hydrogen, meaning sustainable, or low-cost byproduct hydrogen, is what drives our siting on the manufacturing side,” ​said the CEO. 

Japan has been very aggressive in establishing emissions reduction targets for certain industries and companies, said Tze. “In our case, our partner there is a quick-lime manufacturer; that is an industry that, in its process and emissions profile, is very similar to cement. That particular company currently emits around 200K ton of CO2 per year. The Japanese government said it has up until 2030 to cut out a quarter of that.”

Engaging with NovoNutrients on a carbon capture utilization method allows the Japanese quick-lime producer to turn waste into a profitable line of business as opposed to a carbon capture and storage approach which would cost it, said Tze.

When pressed on the US project, Tze would only say that NovoNutrients was selected by Chevron Technology Ventures to join its Catalyst grant program in November last year. That  initiative was set up to support early stage startups that have created emerging technologies with the potential to benefit the energy industry. 

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