Duckweed takes off in nutrition space as well as biofuel and bioenergy

November 11, 2018 |

Duckweed is some pretty amazing stuff. And no, we aren’t talking about that kind of Daffy Duck duck weed. We are talking about the green stuff that grows in ponds and floats on the surface of water, often mistaken for algae. Why is this green goodness so good?

Duckweed, also referred to as lemna or its scientific name lemnoideae, is high in protein and starch and is more digestible than pea, soy, or algae protein. Its neutral color and taste makes it a perfect alternative in the nutrition food space for things like egg whites, and it is allergen-free, unlike soy and some other protein sources. But what about biofuels? Yes, it’s pretty handy dandy for that too.

Duckweed – the green stuff of the future?

The Digest covered duckweed’s potential in May when California-based Greenbelt Resources Corporation and Duckweed DAYS got all their ducks in a row and commenced their inaugural Duckweed Project to commercialize the duckweed model developed by the Andrew J. Young Foundation. When Greenbelt reported its Q2 financial results in July, Darren Eng, CEO specifically touted the duckweed project as a reason they did well.

When complete, Greenbelt’s $5.0 million ECOsystem project, a critical component of the estimated $14.0 million total project cost, will produce up to 500,000 gallons of bioethanol per year, along with a protein concentrate that will be sold to organic feed mills and food ingredient manufacturers. The biorefinery is expected to be operational 15 months after breaking ground.

But what is most interesting is that since May, duckweed hasn’t gone away. It’s done just the opposite, getting in our face and over and over again with big announcements on commercialization and forward movement.

As reported in NUU just last week, a new report said that duckweed is set to grow and become a preferred feedstock for biofuel, aquaculture and animal feed due to its high growth in nutrient-rich water. It can also more than double within 36 hours making it ideal for fast reproduction.

Plantible Foods

California-based Plantible Foods is a good example of duckweed’s potential and growth, with their recent completion of pre-seed funding, led by Unshackled Ventures. While the amount wasn’t disclosed, we are sure it will help them get to commercialization soon since their plan is to use the investment to finalize its proprietary extraction technology and work with leading food scientists on the commercialization of its ingredients. Plantible Foods is just months away from opening its first commercial pilot facility.

“The global population is growing while we have fewer natural resources to produce enough food,” said Tony Martens, co-founder of Plantible Foods. “We have created the world’s most sustainable, applicable and simply best plant-based protein that can help feed the world, while not destroying the planet in the process. Unshackled Ventures brings our vision a step closer.”

“Plantible Foods is not only a high-protein alternative to traditional sources, but it’s also good for the environment,” said Manan Mehta, general partner of Unshackled Ventures. “It’s incredible what the founding team has been able to do on non-arable land with a fraction of the water requirement as compared to alternative plant-based proteins. We are excited to add another socially and economically conscious investment in our portfolio. We look to help them succeed faster in the U.S.”

Parabel

Florida-based Parabel has huge announcements too after seven years of research and now producing about 300 metric tons per year. Having commercialized their flagship ingredient, Lentein, which is extracted from duckweed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a GRAS No Objection Letter for its LENTEIN plant protein.

Parabel sees the growth continuing, with duckweed being a disrupter in the food industry in particular. Cecilia Wittbjer, VP of marketing at Parabel told NutraIngredients-USA that some large brands may be including Lentein in their products by the end of this year.

Thank goodness Parabel will be opening up a second farm in 2019 to produce an additional 3,000 tons. Because Parabel is expecting further global demand, it’s already planning a third farm quite close to where the existing two farms are located near Vero Beach in Florida. “The farms are easily scalable to match demand to supply and every farm takes three weeks from seeding to harvest so production can be ramped up quite quickly.”

Ajinomoto

In March 2017, Nuu reported that Japan-based Ajinomoto Co., Inc. acquired the exclusive sales rights in Japan for Mankai, a variety of the aquatic plant duckweed, by investing USD $15 million in Hinoman Ltd., an Israeli company with Mankai breeding rights in Israel. Ajinomoto plans to establish a new business by promoting the development and sale of processed foods using Mankai as well as sale of Mankai as an ingredient.

Protein makes up about 45 percent of the nutritional components of Mankai dry powder and also contains vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. Cultivated in a short period with a relatively small amount of water, light and nutrients, Mankai can be produced efficiently with a minimal ecological footprint.

Bottom Line

Duckweed is nothing new, yet it is new. A Rutgers study back in 2011 said, “The Lemnaceae, commonly known as Duckweeds, are the smallest, fastest growing and simplest of flowering plants, representing a high-impact biofuel feedstock that is ripe for exploitation.” The big news here is that we are finally paying attention to duckweed. Investors and companies who see $ green in the green are paying attention. Researchers looking to see what they can do with duckweed are paying attention. Consumers looking for low environmental impact bioenergy or high protein sources are paying attention.

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Co-Founders of Plantible Foods Tony Martens and Maurits van de Ven were also optimistic about duckweed’s future and said, “We have decided to specifically focus on the valuable protein that is inside lemna but are also aware of the versatility of the crop as well as the supporting technologies, which can be applied to other crops and industries. We believe that this is just the start for this humble but awe-inspiring crop and that it has a bright future ahead.” We couldn’t agree more.

We are certainly getting there, but as we know all too well, sometimes the nutrition part of the equation is more profitable than the biofuels part. That’s why we anticipate commercialization of the nutrition protein to take off more quickly than the biofuel and bioenergy piece, but we’ll get there, and maybe sooner than we think.

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