Enifer turns its focus to shrimp after promising results in salmon for its fungi protein

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© Iiro Muttilainen
© Iiro Muttilainen

Related tags mycoprotein Enifer Salmon shrimp

Enifer, a Finnish biotech startup, reports positive results in research trials focused on the aquaculture sector with its mycoprotein, Pekilo Aqua.

Pekilo is a fungus that, through a special fermentation process, can produce a dried powder rich in protein and has a vast variety of usage cases, such as pet food, aqua feed, and human food.

Last autumn saw the firm publish results showing how supplementation of the diets of juvenile salmon growing in freshwater with the mycoprotein​ would bring clear added benefits for their health and growth. That research was undertaken by a group of scientists led by Professor Margareth Øverland in collaboration with the Norwegian University for Life Sciences (NMBU).

Joosu Kuivanen, COO at Enifer, said back then that the health and performance benefits generated by the inclusion of Pekilo Aqua mycoprotein in salmon diets was due to the composition of the fungal protein, which consists of about 65% protein, 15% beta-glucan, 10% fats and minerals, and a high concentration of vitamin B.

Now, Enifer has turned its focus to shrimp, with a trial​ conducted by the Malta-based contract research provider, AquaBioTech Group, revealing promising outcomes.

“We have several ongoing R&D projects to understand the potential of our Pekilo Aqua mycoprotein in aquaculture. We already have had excellent results when evaluating it with salmon and now, shrimp,” says Heikki Keskitalo, business development manager and co-founder of Enifer.

The latest study involved an eight-week nutrition trial to assess the effects of substituting fishmeal in the diets of whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) with increasing concentrations (ranging from 0 to 30%) of Pekilo Aqua. Shrimp were allocated to five dietary groups, each with varying levels of fishmeal inclusion, ranging from 24% to 0%. At the conclusion of the trial, shrimp fed with the 0% fishmeal and 30% Pekilo Aqua diet exhibited superior growth compared to those on diets with higher fishmeal content. The final average weight of shrimp in this group reached 25.8g, representing a 10% increase in weight over the high fishmeal diet.

Additionally, the survivability rate was observed to be 11% higher in the 0% fishmeal and 30% Pekilo Aqua group, while palatability remained comparable to diets containing higher fishmeal levels.

production unit fermentation
Founded by five scientists, Enifer is dedicated to advancing and commercializing its proprietary Pekilo technology. The biotech traces its roots back to 2020 when it emerged as a spin-off company from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The Pekilo production process was originally developed by forestry industry scientists in that country in the 1960s to produce cost-efficient animal feed protein from side streams of the pulp and paper industry. Enifer today is using the same, but enhanced, proprietary technology and fermentation process to upcycle by-products from diverse agri-, food- and forest industry processes into its mycoprotein. The company maintains the production process is efficient, uses little water, does not require a large land area, and does not cause eutrophication like traditional agriculture. © Iiro Muttilainen

In January this year, Enifer announced it was constructing its first commercial-scale factory to produce its Pekilo ingredients.  That facility is currently projected to cost €30m (US$32.3m) to build and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025, with production ramp-up occurring in 2026. The company raised €11m in a series A funding round ​in spring 2023.

As Enifer looks to scale up its production, Keskitalo reports that the biotech is keen to form additional partnerships with feed producers regarding the transformative benefits and potential applications of its product as an alternative to fishmeal in aqua feed. The startup has already forged strategic alliances with prominent global entities in the feed and food sectors, including Skretting, the aquafeed division of Nutreco, Purina for pet food, and Valio for consumer food products.

In terms of aqua feed production, Enifer outlined last year how it was looking at partnering with third parties – operators active in the bioethanol space - through joint ventures or licensing deals. Bioethanol sites produce large volumes of stillage, a liquid waste remaining after ethanol distillation, and they are looking at how they can valorize that side-stream, how they can get more value out of it, with Enifer claiming its process enables that.

The biotech previously evaluated about 40 different, globally sourced, raw materials, overall, within its smaller R&D fermenters. The distillation residues from bioethanol production, whether that is sugarcane, sugar beet or starch based, proved the most effective.

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