Microbial protein startup triumphs in 2023 BNEF Pioneers competition

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/We Are
© GettyImages/We Are

Related tags MicroHarvest BloombergNEF (BNEF) Pioneers Protein aqua feed pet food

MicroHarvest has been selected as a winner in the 2023 BloombergNEF (BNEF) Pioneers awards, which recognize early-stage companies working to introduce technologies and products that can push the world to a net-zero global economy.

The Hamburg-and-Lisbon-based company, which was founded in 2021, makes an alternative protein by fermenting bacteria using feedstock derived from agricultural byproducts and drying it into a powder that can then be mixed with other ingredients. Its process can be completed in a matter of hours and the company says its product reduces land use by 99% and CO2 emissions by more than 70% relative to beef production.

This year the BNEF awards received 350 applications from 42 countries. A team of lead BNEF analysts evaluated candidates against three criteria: the potential impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the planet, the degree of technology innovation and originality, and the likelihood of adoption and potential scalability, with 12 winners selected from the shortlisted pool of entrants.

Benjamin Kafri, selection committee co-chair and global head of innovation, client relations and partnerships at BloombergNEF, said: “We are very encouraged by the innovation and determination shown by these pioneers and by the impact that they could have in accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Net-zero food production 

MicroHarvest was named as winning innovator for its response to the challenge of ‘Building a net-zero food production system.’

That category is focused on championing new food production systems, processes and technologies that can bring GHG emissions down to zero. Innovations can include feed additives, chemical and biological modifications, or alternative proteins.

MicroHarvest operates within the accelerating segment of fermentation-enabled alternative protein. The company is targeting inclusion in pet food and shrimp feed for its product initially, with it planning to enter the human food space eventually. 

Kate bekers
Katelijne Bekers, co-founder and CEO of MicroHarvest

Katelijne Bekers, co-founder and CEO of the startup, told FeedNavigator that the company has run acceptance tests using its product as a replacement for fishmeal. “Initial results are encouraging.”

The startup, she continued, has also seen strong interest from pet food manufacturers in its microbial protein. “The pet food industry is one that we strongly believe in and where we think MicroHarvest can truly drive impact.”

In terms of next steps, Bekers outlined how MicroHarvest is working towards commercialization milestones, continuing to probe the scalability of its processes while moving forwards on the regulatory aspects with a view to bringing its product to market as soon as possible.

Since 2021, the company has secured nearly €10m in investment from a Series A, a smaller initial round, as well as from grants. “All our investors operate within the impact space, and they include VCs such as Astanor Ventures, FoodLabs, Happiness Capital and Faber.”

Competitive space

MicroHarvest was not the only company recognized within the net-zero food production system category of the BNEF Pioneers awards. The two other winners were FutureFeed and Precision AI.

FutureFeed is licensing its patented discovery that using Asparagopsis seaweed as a livestock feed ingredient can significantly reduce cattle methane emissions.

Precision AI has designed a fixed-wing drone equipped with cameras and AI to spot, identify and kill weeds without dousing entire fields in chemicals. It says its system reduces herbicide use by up to 90%. 

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