Rather Than Food Into Fuel.

The world needs sustainable solutions to overcome the food challenges of the 21st century. Therefore, we do need to figure out how we can feed the growing world population when agriculture land per capita is decreasing and how we can produce more protein in a sustainable way without polluting our planet.

Unibio is a Danish biotech company founded in 2001. Its main focus is to supply solutions to the challenge of protein scarcity in an eco-friendly way while addressing the environmental issues of overfishing, deforestation, use of pesticides and fertilisers, exhaustion of farm lands and water resources. Unibio has unique competencies within fermentation technologies allowing a highly scalable production of protein with the use of methanotroph bacteria. Methane is converted into the highly concentrated bacterial protein meal, Uniprotein®, in an environmentally friendly manner with a minimum use of energy and water.

Since the foundation, Unibio"s goal has been to provide the world with innovative sustainable solutions to meet the challenges of a growing global population and sustained growth in living standards, which have increased the global demand for fish and meat for human consumption. With the use of Unibio"s biotechnological innovations the company is able to decouple protein production from the fluctuating and limited agricultural sector (Figure 1) and the volatile fishing industries. Thus, a change in the protein value chain occurs where proteins can be produced by the bioindustry as feed for animals, and cropland can be used to produce food for humans instead of feed for animals.

Unibio"s unique bacterial fermentation technology is called U-Loop® technology and was developed in cooperation with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The U-Loop® technology is based on a process occurring in nature every day, which has been transformed into a bioindustrial setting (Figure 2). Natural gas (methane) is converted into Uniprotein® that can be used as a protein-rich, healthy and sustainable ingredient in feed for all animals.

The U-Loop® technology ensures optimal growth conditions for the bacteria by ensuring an optimal feeding environment through liquid movement, fermentation temperature and input control.

The bacteria eat methane and double in number every second hour, and the liquid is transformed into a protein broth. The tailor-made technology of the U-Loop® fermenter speeds up the natural process significantly as a vertical fermenter design has been developed which can handle a large volumetric gas fraction, significantly improving average production. This allows a much more energy-efficient transport of nutrients from gas phase to liquid phase at a much higher rate compared to conventional bioreactors. The special U-Loop® fermentation technology thus adds a new and sustainable protein production method to the traditional food value chain.

Uniprotein® is grown by an aerobic fermentation of methane by applying four different bacteria with the methanotrophic bacterium Methylococcus capsulatus being the major one. It is a protein-rich biomass produced by the microbial culture of the four different bacteria with methane as the sole carbon and energy source. The bacterial biomass is heat-treated (UHT) for a short period of time to kill the host bacteria in the fermentation process and to sterilise the product and is then spray-dried into a powder or pellet product. The main nutrient content of the Uniprotein® powder product is approximately 70 percent crude protein, nine percent crude fat, nine percent ash and eight percent nitrogen-free extracts (NFE) with a dry matter content of 94 percent. Being used as a feed for animals, Uniprotein® is very comparable to the composition of premium fishmeal. Also, the amino acid composition of Uniprotein®, and especially the content of the essential amino acids, is similar to that of fishmeal, which makes it an ideal protein ingredient in feed for animals (Figure 3).

In the testing of Uniprotein® as a feed for fish and livestock, it has been shown to be a suitable replacement for fishmeal and soybean meal1. Due to different requirements of different species, different inclusion levels of Uniprotein® are recommended (Table 1).

In addition to the fact that Uniprotein® is a suitable replacement for fishmeal and soybean meal due to its chemical composition, it has also been shown to have some positive immune stimulatory effects in the gastrointestinal tract of salmonid species7. In salmon a bacterial protein meal content of up to 36 percent in the diet has resulted in an improved specific growth rate (22%) and a significantly higher feed efficiency ratio (10%) compared to fishmeal diets. Inclusion levels of bacterial protein meal of up to 36% also showed a higher retention of nitrogen (16%) and a higher retention of energy (14%) compared to a fishmeal control diet2. These results indicate that inclusion of bacterial protein meal improves the gut health of the fish and the function of the gastrointestinal tract, thus increasing digestion and utilisation of the nutrients. The gut health improving effects of bacterial protein meal in feed for fish are also seen when bacterial protein meal is fed together with soybean meal, thereby preventing soybean-induced enteritis7. It has been shown that nucleic acids and phospholipids may be beneficial to the homeostasis of the gastrointestinal tract8,9. The crude fat of Uniprotein® consists mainly of phospholipids, which together with the nucleic acids may affect the immune reactions and improve the intestinal growth and the gastrointestinal differentiation in the digestive tract of the fish8,9. Thus, Uniprotein® may trigger the immune response in the gastrointestinal tract of the fish and thereby prevent soybean-induced enteritis7.

It is not only in fish that bacterial protein meal has been shown to have some positive effects on the immune response. In shrimp, inclusion levels of up to 100 percent bacterial protein meal with replacement of fishmeal on a one-to-one basis have also been shown to increase the survival rate from 84 percent in the control group to 93-97 percent in the group with 100 percent replacement of fishmeal with bacterial protein meal. Also, growth was improved in terms of total shrimp weight in all bacterial protein meal diet groups, showing equivalent to or improved growth compared to the control diet group10.

Other monogastric animals such as pigs, broilers, mink and dogs have also shown some positive responses in relation to health and digestion when fed with bacterial protein meal. Inclusion levels of 12 percent for weaned piglets have resulted in increased average daily gain (up to 33%) and average daily feed intake (15%) 11. In growing pigs, inclusion levels of up to 15 percent match the nitrogen retention rate seen in cereal- and soybean meal-based diets, and the overall protein and energy metabolism in growing pigs is not affected when up to 15 percent bacterial protein meal is incorporated in the feed3. For broilers, up to 12 percent bacterial protein meal in the feed improves feed efficiency by six percent, while mink and dogs can be fed with an inclusion level of eight percent and 12 percent, respectively, and have an equally high digestibility rate, average daily gain and growth response compared to a fishmeal control diet5,6.

Despite the positive effects on the animals" health and improved digestion, Uniprotein® is also a very sustainable protein nutrient source because of its ability to grow rapidly on substrates with minimum dependence on soil, water and climate1. Unibio"s game-changing green technology thus really makes a difference for the future and is the most optimal production form in terms of environmental and sustainable aspects with respect to land use and water footprint (Figure 4). The fermentation technology itself constitutes a financially solid business model with significant growth in predicable and recurring revenue with a high security of supply and no commercial volatility in terms of quantities available and sales prices.
 

To summarise and conclude

• Uniprotein® is an important and valuable protein source that can be used in feed for fish and animals with high benefits.

• Inclusion of Uniprotein® in the feed leads to increased digestion and utilisation of the nutrients for both fish and monogastric animals.

• Bacterial protein meal stimulates the immune response, prevents fish from suffering from enteritis and increases the survival rate for shrimp.

• Uniprotein® can provide savings on feed quantities through for instance an increase in the specific growth rate and the feed efficiency ratio, due to its gut health improving factors.

• The production of Uniprotein® is a naturally occurring process, and Uniprotein® contains neither antibiotics nor pesticide residues

• The process remains non-GMO.

 

by Unibio, Denmark

 

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