Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Pet Expert: BioTech Startups Turn Carbon Emissions Into Protein

Innovation in the pet industry has propelled Canada’s top pet brands into global popularity, leading the worldwide pet industry in developing unique, super premium recipes for companion animals.

In recent years, using cutting-edge technology, many pet food manufacturers have made remarkable gains improving the nutrient bioavailability of their products, decreasing waste using recycled fruit and vegetable fibres from juiceries, and even selecting alternative, more eco-friendly protein sources like black soldier flies in select formulations.

These are just a few of the many unprecedented innovations we’ve seen in the pet industry in recent memory, however there is one new technology on the horizon that is about to change the way we think about food production for pets, humans, and livestock.

Chinese researchers have developed a unique process using industrial exhaust to create a single-celled protein for animal feed. This is possible thanks to clostridium autoethanogenum, a tiny bacterium that is also used to make ethanol. The process takes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen from industrial exhaust and synthesizes them into digestible proteins.

Using this process, China could drastically reduce their carbon emissions, while also providing up to 28 million tons of synthetic protein to feed livestock. As the world’s largest supplier of pork, China is the beginning of the food supply chain for hundreds of industries.

And that’s not all.

In the spring of 2021, a webinar hosted by F3 The Future of Fish Feed, leaders from six top single-cell manufacturers highlighted their strategies for the future of their technologies to an audience of more than 20,000.

With production facilities in China, England, America, Russia, and more, single-cell manufacturers have developed several breakthrough technologies for creating proteins for use in large-scale animal feeding – all from industrial gas emissions. One such company, Boston-based biotech firm KnipBio, already has approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for a feed for use in finfish and crustacean diets.

Gas fermentation processes can be enormously up-scaled at relatively low cost, too. This technology presents a unique opportunity to CO2 emitters as they now have a financial incentive to capture their carbon as a saleable commodity.

For example, Silicon Valley startup NovoNutrients estimated that the annual CO2 emissions of a large cement plant could produce protein flour worth upwards of $3 billion. This is the equivalent of 330 million bushels of soy, or the annual soy production of the state of Nebraska.

Naturally, one of the primary concerns surrounding these gas fermentation processes is the potential health implications of creating food from pollutants. There are many factors at play here; some sources of CO2 are cleaner than others, for example.

According to the researchers at NovoNutrients, compounds that are considered environmental pollutants, like carbon monoxide, methane, and hydrogen sulphides, are broken down during the fermentation process and ‘remediated’. However, microbes cannot break down elemental contaminants like heavy metals. This puts heavy importance on sourcing waste gases that do not contain harmful elements such as mercury or lead that may end up in the food chain.

While there are no publicly known pet food manufacturers implementing this technology as of yet, it is definitely on the horizon as the industry continues to shift towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

Emission-capturing technology may very well play a significant role in addressing the global food shortage, and reduce global emissions at the same time. However, there are many questions and concerns relating to the quality of the protein produced from pollutants.

Granted, this technology is still in its infancy, so it will be interesting to see how this industry evolves and innovates in the years to come.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.

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