Making the fish feed we need from the scrap wood we don’t: Aquaculture Trials of Arbiom’s SylPro show real promise

August 21, 2019 |

From College Station and North Carolina comes the news that Texas A&M researchers have completed a round of scientific evaluations of Arbiom’s alternative protein ingredient for use in aquafeed.

Studies come out every day, including studies on aquafeeds. What’s different about this one is that Arbiom is making aquafeed out of scrap wood that you find in a typical pulp & paper operation. Pulp & paper is a distressed industry, and we are way, way, way short on enough fish feed — it’s bad enough that we’re starting to take down dams to preserve fish counts — dams that provide water and power to produce food.

Scrap wood to food? What a lift in value, what a way to transform two crisis-level problems into a sustainable solution.

The study results

An initial trial assessing the material handling characteristics of SylPro suggest that it performs well in a range of extrusion conditions at varying inclusion levels in extruded feed. Results also highlighted additional functional binding properties conferred, which suggest SylPro could reduce the need for binding agents. The study concludes that Arbiom’s protein ingredient behaves similar, or superior, to conventional protein ingredients in extruded feeds.

In a second study, the nutritional performance of SylPro was evaluated in hybrid striped bass. Feeds were formulated with Arbiom’s high-protein ingredient at various inclusion rates. Growth (body weight), body composition, nutrient digestibility and general gastrointestinal health were evaluated over the course of a 60-day period.

The study results showed no differences in mortality or feed intake across all diets. There was no statistical difference in body weight gain or feed intake up to the 20 percent inclusion level of Arbiom’s protein compared to the control diet. Further, SylPro showed an exceptional crude protein digestibility of 97%. These findings indicate that SylPro can be used to replace fish meal or plant-based proteins in hybrid striped bass diets and deliver equivalent nutritional performance as conventional protein sources up to 20 percent inclusion level.

The product backstory

SylPro is a yeast single-cell protein, that is produced using wood-derived media in fermentation and final downstream processing to achieve appropriate properties as a viable replacement for fish meal or plant protein concentrates. Arbiom’s product has been developed to solve the challenges of protein sourcing and gastrointestinal health for aquaculture and livestock producers.

How do they do it?

It’s an already-approved yeast with a long history of safe use, Ricardo Ekmay, Vice President of Nutrition for Arbiom explained to The Digest. It’s able to efficiently use both C5 and C6 sugars, and although work on rate and yield will continue, Arbiom says that already they are for the most part satisfied that the process will play out economically.

So, will Mikey like it, Mikey the fish that is? After all, if we could just throw anything at fish and they’d eat it, we’d probably throw the same soy meal that cows love. They don’t like it much.

So, the trials are key and it’s good news so far. More trials underway, and more results to share ultimately.

What we like about this platform, especially, is that Arbiom can tailor a suite of products to meet changing demands and tastes. That’s the on/off we’re looking for, as opposed to planting swaths of soymeal and seeing who we can feed it to, and taking a health hit or a weight gain hit where we have used a less-than-optimal soy mix.

Right now, this is based on hardwoods, the kind we’d see coming into a pulp mill, and the process would either be a bolt-on or a stand-alone facility. In the former, think partnership with a pulp mill. In the latter, think of buying scrap from a region replete with mills.

The Single-cell protein backstory

We’ve been covering this closely, and will continue to do so, as more players are getting into advanced feeds.

Conventional plant sugars have been a platform possibility for quite some time. The prices and competing needs for plant sugars have slowed down efforts. In recent years, Calysta has come along with a platform for converting methane to single-cell protein — transformatively interesting, and getting to scale now. The focal point is likely to be fossil natural gas for some time — biogas is definitely available but not as cheaply or as widely, so there have been sustainability questions over Calysta’s progress, though the answer has to be that we need fish, and fish need food, in epic quantities, and we’re going to have to get that affordably from somewhere, and growing SCP from methane sounds a whole lot better than making fish feed from grinding little fish into feed form.

Not every SCP technology ever born has had bright success, this isn’t easy science, which makes Arbiom one of a handful of companies to talk with about their progress. After all, this was the technology that sunk the Soviet Union, which you can read all about here.

The yield story

Arbiom is at early-stage and specifics on yield are not yet forthcoming. Our starting point is the two thirds of a hardwood consisting of hemicellulose and cellulose.

The bonus benefit

For many years, there’s been the hope of making an animal feed — and more urgently, a fish feed — from lower cost resources and in a more industrial way where we can turn on and turn off manufacturing more immediately than traditional farming allows.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“The results of these studies are a critical and promising step in validating the effectiveness of SylPro as we continue to scale-up Arbiom’s Wood to Food platform and bring our first commercial product to the market,” said Ricardo Ekmay, PhD, Vice President of Nutrition for Arbiom.

“We believe SylPro will make a valuable contribution to addressing the challenges faced by aquaculture producers and feed formulators. The results from recent and future trials will continue to demonstrate science-backed performance of SylPro and accelerate our efforts to bring this superior protein source to the market,” said Marc Chevrel, Arbiom CEO.

The Bottom Line

It’s early days for Arbiom. What a promising step forward. Mikey the Fish likes it, it appears in the early data — or rather, it works well as a substitute for existing fish meals. And we sure need as much feed as we can get — after all, at the top of the food chain we better make sure that everything is going well at the bottom. Or as the engineer mentioned to the architect, with a good base you won’t fall over.

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