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Energy to Food: Industrial landscape of a new role for methane in providing food and feed

Updated: Apr 15

In many natural ecosystems, microbes grow well on methane as a source of energy and carbon. In the last decades, several companies have worked on harnessing this process in industrial settings and are now scaling up methane-to-protein technology to make sustainable feed and foods. One of the main microbes that use methane has a heritage in animal feed in Europe, and was approved for feed in 1995 (1). The fermentors have been tested for decades, the products are being enhanced for new applications, and the feedstock is being increasingly “decarbonized” in the form of biomethane and e-methane. All this is making for a very dynamic space.

Map of methane-to-protein facilities
Production capacity of existing and planned facilities

In the below article we give a brief snapshot of the state of the industry. 

Calysta - is a US-based microbial fermentation company which focuses on converting methane to aquafeed, pet food and in the future human food. They have approvals for sale of feed and pet food in several markets (2). They were founded in 2012 and have successfully built a 20,000 tonnes per year commercial scale facility located in China with the potential to expand the capacity.  As of the beginning of 2024 they obtained full MARA (Ministry of Economy and Rural Affairs) approval from the Chinese government to sell their product on Chinese aquafeed market (3). Their FeedKind product is a vegan, non-GMO, protein-rich deactivated microbial biomass which can be incorporated at approximately 30% inclusion rate in diets of certain animals, and has shown some health benefits in published trials. The commercial facility is owned by Calisseo, a joint venture between Calysta and Adisseo which is a globally-known French feed producer and distributor. Besides its headquarters in the US and their facility in China, Calysta also has an R&D location in Teesside UK. This location is famous for ICIs Pruteen factory in the 1980s, and current Quorn factory. As of 2022, Calysseo is in talks to build a 100,000 tonnes per year microbial fermentation facility in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia together with Food Caravan by 2026 (4).

Unibio - is a Denmark-based company focused on producing animal feed through their own production, but also through licensing the technology. They are known for owning rights on the U-Loop bioreactor and for close connection with DTU in Denmark. Incorporated in 2014, they have a pilot facility in Denmark, and by licensing out the technology they built a 6,000 tonnes/year facility in Russia in collaboration with Protelux  in 2018 (5). As of 2021, Stafilis, Protelux’s parent company, has become a stakeholder in Unibio’s technology, and Unibio will have the opportunity to acquire stakes in Protelux in the future (6). As of 2022, Unibio has engaged in licensing out its technology to Gulf Biotech to build the first Unibio facility in Qatar with a capacity of 9,000 tonnes per year of biomass for feed applications (7).  Construction was set to start early 2023 and the plant was to be up and running at the end of 2024 at earliest (8). Unibio and Calysta share a common heritage in the company Norferm.

Core Protein - acquired an exclusive license from Unibio to produce microbial protein in the US, and non-exclusive rights to distribute the product worldwide. In 2019, the parties were in search of a location in Texas for building a plant. In 2022 there was a disagreement between parties related to their Master Licensing Agreement (9). Publicly available court documents indicate the parties are working on resolving the issues. 

KnipBio - Boston-based microbial aquaculture feed company founded in 2013. Unlike Unibio and Calysta which are using non-GMO Methylococcus capsulatus, KnipBio is using Methylobacterium extorquens (10). According to some reports, they have produced 100 tonnes of product between 2021 and 2022 (11). While not specifically emphasized on their website, from various sources it is stated that they used natural gas as a feedstock, however they are exploring other non-food feedstocks as well and primarily using methanol for the production line that they currently have (12). In 2020 they obtained GRAS FDA approval for using their dried genetically modified microbe in the feed of finfish and crustacea (13). As of 2020, they were working with third parties to scale up their production. 

String Bio - founded in 2013 and based in Bengaluru, String Bio uses methane to produce animal feed, various agricultural products and everyday commodities, and are aiming to develop human food (14).  Farmers are using their products, CleanRise and Impakt. Since 2018 these biostimulants help improve crop cultivation (15). As for the feedstocks, they are focusing on flared methane and biogas. They are valorising methane that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere (16). - started in 2018, they own a bioreactor patent and are running tests on two 400 L bioreactors. Their next goal is to develop a 5 m3 and eventually 50 m3 bioreactor and to establish a 20,000 tonnes per year protein facility later in the future. Besides protein they are also developing technologies for bioplastic production in microbes (17).

Methane to protein companies
Methane-to-protein companies

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