Saudi Industrial Investment Group to invest US$70m in Unibio

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Richard Drury
© GettyImages/Richard Drury

Related tags Unibio Saudi arabia Qatar Protein Aquaculture

The Saudi Industrial Investment Group (SIIG), one of the first privately owned petrochemical companies in Saudi Arabia, is ploughing around US$70m into Unibio.

The investment will be paid in two tranches - the first tranche of around US$25m has already been paid with the second subject to applicable Foreign Direct Investment approvals. When finalized, it will give SIIG a 24% ownership stake in the Danish protein innovator.

David Henstrom, CEO of Unibio, said the investment would help it scale up the business in the region and beyond.

Production capacity expansion 

The novel protein producer will use the proceeds of the financing to roll-out new global production capacity and accelerate innovation.

“We will continue to invest in our technology, in R&D, and in our commercial capabilities. But we are also looking to make equity investments with joint venture partners to build facilities and scale them in places where our technology can add value,” the CEO told us.

Unibio’s single cell protein (SCP), Uniprotein, is derived from the U-Loop technology fermentation: a continuous-flow fermentation of a microbial culture using any type of natural gas or methane, including biogas.

The developer says the production of its SCP is highly resource-efficient and sustainable compared with the production of traditional protein. Relative to soy production, Uniprotein uses no arable land and significantly less water.

The product is approved for feed in the EU and global registrations are in progress; the company maintains that Uniprotein provides nutrition on par with other conventional protein sources such as fishmeal. The product has been evaluated successfully in various aqua and animal species, it added.

Food security 

SIIG and Unibio are also considering developing a project in Saudi Arabia to produce bioprotein using dry gas.

Henstrom said the Saudi investors have a similar perspective to the Danish company on where the future is for sustainable protein. SIIG’s investment strategy is driven by diversification, with a goal of entering new sectors based on sustainability and modern technologies.

Abdulrahman S Alismail, CEO of SIIG, weighed in on the partnership: "Unibio's focus aligns with Saudi Arabia's commitment to increasing domestic protein production and supporting food security through innovation and technology. We are investing in Unibio for the long-term and believe that by doing so we will contribute to a more diverse and sustainable economy."

Unibio could also benefit from climate change focused initiatives underway in Saudi Arabia.

That country is focused heavily on renewable energy, on sustainable electricity programs, under its Vision 2030 economic plan, so potentially UniBio would be able to leverage a supply of clean green ingredients for use in its process in the future, said the CEO.

Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity. “We could take the oxygen and use it in the front end of our process, for example.”

Qatar facility

In neighboring Qatar, Unibio’s licensing partner, the Doha-based industrial biotech investor, Gulf Biotech, entered the final engineering design phase late last year in terms of its construction of the first SCP plant in that country. The plant will use Unibio’s technology to produce Uniprotein.

“We're still in the process of finalizing and completing that,” reported Henstrom.

Russian market

Unibio has a license agreement with Stafilies,​ owner of Protelux and the Protelux plant in Ivangorod, Russia, which is using the U-Loop technology. As a consequence of the war in Ukraine, Unibio has stopped selling protein being produced at the plant in Russia, for the time being, said Henstrom.

While pausing that arrangement might have caused some disruption for the business, the CEO confirmed that Unibio’s facility in Denmark has been able to produce ample quantities for sampling and getting traction with new customers.

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