Construction complete on Unibio backed methane to protein plant in Russia
By Jane Byrne
Protelux has completed the construction of a 6,000 ton per year methane to feed protein plant in Russia, based on technology from Danish company, Unibio.
The parties said they are currently testing the plant, located in Ivangorod in the Leningrad region. They expect to commission it by late 2018. Four fermenters encompassing natural gas absorbing methanotrophic bacteria have been constructed as part the Ivangorod facility. These bacteria serve as the source of protein for the manufacturing process.
The Danish company's U-Loop technology enables natural gas to be converted into a single cell protein - UniProtein - for use in feed. It does this via a process whereby bacteria 'eat' the C1 connections in the methane gas, and, thereby, grow. They are transformed into protein granules through a traditional downstream process.
Protelux, which acquired the Russian license for the technology to make protein from natural gas using bacteria from Unibio in 2016, has invested close to $35m into the facility.
The principal financial backers of Protelux are a Finland-based holding company uniting Lihatukku Jouni Partanen Oy, Pajuniemi and Maalaistuote Vataja Oy, and investment vehicles set up by Mikhail Serdtsev, a former co-owner of Absolut Bank, Kirill Pisarev, a former stockholder of the PIK Group, as well as a number of private investors.
The investors said they aim to create a major player in the domestic protein feed market and establish a new export-oriented industry.
"The low cost of natural gas and electricity are given competitive advantages for Russia when it comes to the production of bio protein, we can expect this project's EBITDA to be in the tens of percent on capital invested. Our strategic goal is to secure our own source of locally sourced protein concentrate which is currently in very limited supply, for the Russian market," said Protelux oversight board chair, Mikhail Serdtsev.
Once this plant is commissioned, Protelux said it plans to focus on developing two other similar methane to protein sites it has secured, both of which are located in free economic zones. The company plans to build 10 such Russian-based facilities over the period of 10 years generating an expected revenue of over $1.5bn.
Unibio's role in the licensing deal is as technology and service provider - it takes a role in the plant commissioning and training of operators, and supplying the expertise.
Henrik Busch-Larsen, CEO of Unibio, speaking to FeedNavigator today, said the company would see a very attractive royalty stream coming from these plants:
"We are talking about millions of dollars for UniBio, which is very exciting."
To his understanding, the Russian pig and fish feed market will be the initial focus of the Ivangorod plant.
The move is a huge boost for the development of feed protein based on single cell technology, he continued.
"Globally, we are the first methane to protein company, together with a partner, to reach full scale. We are quite happy about the capacity of this first plant, and we are excited about the future months in terms of plant commissioning and testing. The successful commissioning will really be a game changer for UniBio and will take us to an entirely new level."
In terms of developments for Unibio in other markets, he said:
"We have a license agreement signed in North America and we are involved in active discussions in other regions of the world."
Unibio runs its research and pilot facilities at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and its demonstration-scale plant in Kalundborg, Denmark. The technology was developed in close cooperation with DTU; the production facility in Kalundborg is co-financed by Innovation Fund Denmark.
The resulting feed ingredient Uniprotein, comprises 70% protein content and is produced without the use of pesticides, utilizes significantly less water than plant-based protein sources and does not take up farm land, said the company. Uniprotein is approved in the EU for use in all animal and fish feed. The production process always results in a uniform product, and the only waste product is clean water and limited CO2, said UniBio.
The technology is similar to that used by another methane gas to feed protein developer, US based Calysta.