China: Novel protein production method uses methanol from coal

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Monty Rakusen
© GettyImages/Monty Rakusen

Related tags China coal Protein methanol

Scientists from the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Chinese have allegedly achieved a coal-to-protein breakthrough, boosting the cost-effectiveness, and environmental sustainability of feed.

The move ​is in response to the unprecedented global demand for protein driven by a surging population.

Their ground-breaking method utilizes methanol derived from coal.

Despite being a global leader in pig and aquaculture production, China faces a significant protein resource shortage, and the country actively seeks alternative, cost-effective approaches to secure a stable protein supply.

Led by Professor Wu Xin, Chinese researchers turned to biotechnological synthesis to address this challenge. After exploring various pathways, the team homed in on industrial fermentation using methanol from coal as a raw material—a cost-effective alternative to traditional protein biosynthesis.

Professor Wu Xin's team reportedly developed a protein production technology that surpasses the cost-effectiveness of conventional methods.

Coal is turned into methanol via gasification. A specific strain of Pichia pastoris yeast​ is then used to ferment the methanol to produce a single-cell protein. This method boasts a dry cell weight and crude protein content of 120g/liter and 67.2%, respectively.

Amino acid profile 

The microbial proteins​ produced through this method have a robust amino acid profile, along with vitamins, inorganic salts, fats, and carbohydrates, claimed the researchers. This nutritional richness positions them as viable partial replacements for fishmeal, soybeans, meat, and skimmed milk powder in various applications, said the scientists.

The research team has allegedly initiated industrial-scale demonstrations, producing thousands of tons of protein in an undisclosed plant.

Looking ahead, Professor Wu Xin emphasizes the need to enhance the physiological functions and nutritional value of methanol-derived proteins. This strategic approach aims to further reduce production costs and increase the value of methanol protein, promoting its large-scale production. 

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