“We are currently preparing that round. It will start in May and it will run to the end of the year. We are in talks with various investors and we are actively looking to initiate discussions with others,” said Heikki Keskitalo, CCO and cofounder of the startup, which is developing Pekilo protein, a single cell protein (SCP) derived from fungi, made using renewable raw materials, industry by-products.
The producer has its own R&D lab in Espoo, near Helsinki, with it also planning to build a new pilot production facility there. “We have ordered the equipment. The pilot site is set to be up and running in May this year. It will produce 5-10kg of Pekilo protein per day, increasing our ability to provide testing samples to various partners,” said Keskitalo.
The startup, which began life in the startup incubator, Launchpad, run by Finnish technical research organization, VTT, is targeting feed companies serving aquaculture segments such as salmon and sea bass production, which are heavily reliant on high protein feed components.
Winner of the 2020 Nutreco Feed and Food Tech Challenge, eniferBio was awarded the right to run salmon feeding studies with Skretting. It did so in the second half of last year: “The results of that trial show that digestibility of Pekilo protein is comparable to that of fishmeal, at around 85%.”
Keskitalo also flagged the economic viability of its SCP manufacturing process. “I believe we are the only single cell protein company that can achieve price parity with soy protein concentrate (SPC), which is currently priced at around €900 per ton.”
The Pekilo protein production model is designed to leverage cheap, fermentable side-streams, said the CCO, and eniferBio has tested about 40 different, globally sourced, raw materials, overall, within its smaller R&D fermenters. The distillation residues from bioethanol production, whether it is sugarcane, sugar beet or starch based, prove the most effective, he said.
Indeed, Tereos, which supported eniferBio in its validation work with Skretting, provided raw material for the trial in the form of a by-product from the production of ethanol from beet molasses.
The partnerships with both Skretting and Tereos continue, said Keskitalo. But its industrial alliances go beyond those; it has established business relationships with five feedstock producers, in total.
Potable alcohol producers, such as whiskey industry players, could also prove suitable suppliers of raw material for eniferBio’s process. “Usually the potable alcohol volumes are not large enough, though. Having said that, we have been in talks with a large whiskey distillery so we could have a potential collaboration project within that sector.”
The Finnish company envisages reaching industrial scale production – 10,000 tons per year – within a few years. The eventual location of that commercial plant, however, would not be in Finland as industrial side-streams in that market are not relevant, said Keskitalo.
Interestingly, the Pekilo protein process was originally developed in Finland, in the 1970s, as the pulp and paper industry invested heavily to develop a technology to convert side-streams from sulphite wood pulping into SCP but developments in pulp production technology gradually led to the replacement of sulphite pulping with a Kraft-based process in that country, said Keskitalo.
“We think the biggest opportunity [in relation to the location for the industrial plant] is in markets where there is significant bioethanol production. We are looking to build a small-scale demonstration plant in Finland, however. There are enough sugar-based side-stream suppliers there to support that. Many partners and investors would like to see the process working at a slightly larger scale.”