Unibio: SCP ingredient passes Danish Agro pig trial with flying colors

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Davy3 Photo
© GettyImages/Davy3 Photo

Related tags: Single cell protein, carbon emissions, starter piglet feed

Unibio says Danish Agro’s testing of its single cell protein (SCP), branded as Uniprotein, shows it can partially replace high-quality products such as potato protein and prime fishmeal in starter piglet diets without zinc oxide.

The company said that when Uniprotein replaced the other high-quality products by up to 10% (the highest level tested), daily growth and feed efficiency of the tested piglets performed in line with that of piglets fed solely the potato protein and prime fishmeal diet.

The trial work was conducted as part of a Danish research project, SUPIAF, funded to the tune of €1.3m by the Green Development and Demonstration Program (GUDP), an initiative run by the Danish Ministry for Food, Fisheries, Equal Opportunities and Nordic Cooperation. The goal of the project is to validate and optimize the nutritional and functional properties of Uniprotein when used in feed for salmonids and piglets.

In addition to Unibio and Danish Agro, the project involves the participation of the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, DTU Aqua and Biomar.

“The test showed encouraging results; Uniprotein may prove a possible alternative to conventional high-quality protein ingredients. The growth of the piglets did not differ from that of the control group, which was fed solely conventional high-quality protein products,”​ commented Professor Mette Olaf Nielsen, Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University.

Earlier studies in salmonids and piglets had indicated that Uniprotein may improve growth and intestinal health and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus excretion, said Unibio. 

Environmental credentials

Uniprotein is produced using methane as feedstock in Unibio’s U-Loop fermenter, which was developed in cooperation with the DTU.

The company touts its product as an alternative to “overexploited protein sources such as fishmeal or land-based soy concentrate products."

When using biomethane or waste gas, Unibio claims its SCP will have low CO2 emissions.

The biotech company argues that its technology enables venting and gas flaring to be reduced as it utilizes an environmentally harmful gas in the production of its single cell protein product.

“By using 200 million m3 of natural gas for fermentation and production of SCP instead of flaring it, a 52% reduction in CO₂ emissions is achieved,”​ explains John Villadsen, professor emeritus, DTU chemical engineering department. 

Feeding trial results

The Danish Agro led feeding trial included 3,360 piglets with 840 piglets consuming four different inclusion levels (0%, 3%, 6% and 10%) of the Uniprotein product. The researchers said the SCP replaced fishmeal and part of the potato protein in Danish Agro’s starter feed for piglets without zinc oxide.

The feeding trial was conducted over 43 days, where the piglet’s diet included Uniprotein in the first 15 days, and then 28 days where the piglet was gradually fed conventional feed.

Some 480 piglets were recruited for the trial after weaning and were then randomly allocated to eight double pens with around 60 piglets per double pen (around 30 piglets per pen). All the piglets in a double pen were allocated the same treatment, resulting in two replicates/repeats per treatment per week and a total of 14 replicates/repeats per treatment, amounting to a total of 840 piglets per treatment, said the team.

“The results of the feeding trial showed that Uniprotein ensures the same growth and health performance of piglets as the high-quality protein sources fishmeal and potato protein.”

The researchers outlined how there were no significant differences between the groups in terms of daily growth or feed conversion. Nevertheless, they saw that the group allocated the diet with 6% inclusion of Uniprotein product recorded a significantly improved feed intake compared with the control group.

Gut health issues were not observed in any of the groups. 

Pricing will be key 

Arne Ringsing, product manager at Danish Agro, said Uniprotein is an organic and highly sustainable protein and the feed manufacturer would anticipate using the SCP in its feed mixtures in the long term.

In terms of market competitiveness, the price of the Unibio product is comparable to fishmeal but more expensive than potato protein, he told us.

But is there really big demand for such new protein sources?                                          

"Fishmeal is a limited resource. We sometimes experience a shortage in fishmeal supplies. Furthermore, Uniprotein has a sustainability advantage [over a lot of other protein sources], as there is no depletion of the soil during the production of the product and there is very little environmental impact overall [from its manufacture],"​ said Ringsing.

Production facilities, off-take agreement 

The Uniprotein used in the trial was produced at Unibio’s test facilities in Kalundborg.

The first, licensed, full-scale plant for production of Uniprotein, built by Protelux, is located in Russia. Unibio says it is negotiating with several other investors regarding manufacturing sites in the Middle East and Asia.

The Danish innovator signed an agreement with Chilean based distributor, Grupo Blumos, for “a large order”​ of its SCP product in December last year, with Unibio saying then it was its first international order of this magnitude.

It said then that Grupo Blumos will be one of the first companies to use the novel protein on a large scale in aqua feed.

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