From Food to Fuel – White Dog Labs converts ethanol plant to alternative protein production

May 3, 2020 |

The ‘Rona Cyclona pandemic is creating havoc on the agricultural industry, not just in the U.S. but around the world. The ethanol industry and corn farmers have had several years of low profitability even before Covid 19, thanks to natural weather disasters like droughts and floods, tanking of oil prices, a trade war with China, and more. There’s talk of meat shortages in the U.S. with several meat processing plant closures due to ‘Rona making some wonder about protein a bit more than usual.

But there is hope as news comes from Delaware where White Dog Labs is starting to address the problem by bringing new markets to ethanol plants and corn farmers – starting with an ethanol plant in Minnesota and repurposing it for mass-production of alternative protein, especially crucial in a time when ethanol is hurting so badly.

In Delaware, White Dog Labs, a microbiome-based biotechnology company is bringing much-needed opportunity to U.S. ethanol plants and corn farmers during this time of Covid-19 crisis.

White Dog Labs, which produces microbiome-derived, animal-like, alternative-protein has recently won a coveted offtake from Cargill’s Aqua Nutrition business. As reported in The Digest in February, White Dog Labs purchased the Central Minnesota Renewables (CMR) ethanol plant in Little Falls, Minnesota, and plans to repurpose it for the mass-production of its alternative protein. The Minnesota plant, originally a 20mgy ethanol plant, was upgraded in 2016 to produce butanol and has several of the unique production capabilities required to produce ProTyton.

“This initiative, besides bringing back jobs and corn consumption, will bring a glimmer of hope to ethanol plant owners and corn farmers,” said Sass Somekh, Chairman, White Dog Labs in an exclusive Digest interview. “The large alternative-protein market can complement the ethanol business, increasing profitability, and corn consumption.”

The company is in discussions with other ethanol plants, as its technology is well-suited for human consumption and for a series of alternative protein consumer products.

Alternative protein – are we talking Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger?

Sort of. Right now, White Dog Labs is creating the alternative protein for fishmeal in aquaculture and animals/pets and a second product in the works for human consumption so eventually it could reach the likes of popular companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger.

The alternative protein isn’t exactly “vegetarian” though, said Somekh. “Our alternative protein, because it is generated by living microorganisms, is more animal-like than vegetable protein. That’s why it is a good replacement for ground sardines (“fishmeal”) used in aquaculture. We have two versions, one for animals (pets included) and one for human consumption.”

Their first product is a single-cell protein aqua feed, with a cool, super hero sounding name like “ProTyton”, how can it not be a hit? Apparently Cargill thinks it’s hip and happening and has lots of potential as White Dog Labs has an offtake agreement with Cargill’s Aqua Nutrition business for it.

ProTyton, made up of 80% protein, is sustainable and scalable as it is made from corn, but is also affordable as it shares production costs with its co-product, MiruTyton. MiruTyton, a butyrate-rich fermentation-soluble, has been shown to substantially reduces prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in challenged broilers, in addition to improving Feed Conversion Ratio and weight gain. As reported in The Digest in February, WDL is currently negotiating a MiruTyton offtake with a major feed-additive company.

“We purchased a shuttered ethanol plant in Little Falls, Minnesota, to mass produce ProTyon,” Somekh told The Digest. “We plan to work with local producers in the area to source the corn needed for the aquafeed protein alternative.”

How do you convert corn and ethanol feedstock into alternative protein?

White Dog Labs fermentation facility

The reason it’s feasible to convert an ethanol plant into an alternative protein producing facility is because “It is a process very much like ethanol,” said Somekh. “Corn is the feedstock and like ethanol we use anaerobic fermentation (no Oxygen involved), except that instead of yeast we use our proprietary microorganism.”

“It is a straightforward process,” said Somekh. “We do not use some of the equipment (distillation) and need to add some equipment (mash filtration), but the rest of the equipment is used as is.”

Possible the best part? It only takes about 9 months from start to finish to convert an ethanol plant from ethanol to alternative protein production.

How feasible is it really?

We asked Somekh, is this something really feasible or realistic for ethanol plants during this pandemic to convert idle or closed ethanol plants into alternative protein production facilities?

“It has always been our strategy to repurpose, reutilize dry grind ethanol assets to help that industry move forward toward new opportunities to support the broader agriculture industry,” said Somekh.“I think the value for ethanol plant owners and corn farmers is a strategy to explore.”

“Considering the current crisis and the fact that ethanol and corn farming has not been a great business for several years before the virus, our technology offers a complementary product to ethanol, which is more profitable and has different cycles than oil price (when oil price is low ethanol prices go down, but people spend more money on food, so having such a complementary product dampens the Boom and Bust cycles,” Somekh told The Digest.

“For the Little Falls plant, we are still meeting our internal schedules/deadlines and intend to start the facility back up at the beginning of 2021,” said Somekh. “That said, since COVID-19 is a dynamic situation, things might change.”

Ah, how we know that all too well now.

Looking into a crystal ball

We wish we could predict the future but if 2020 has taught us anything is that we can’t, but we can plan and prepare as much as possible for various scenarios. So where does Somekh see White Dog Labs in the future given everything that is going on?

“White Doge Labs has world leading biotech technology that ‘harnesses the evolution of microorganisms to provide sustainable solutions for a wide range of global challenges’ – at this point the company is commercializing Human and Animal Nutrition and developing Human and Animal Health products,” Somekh told The Digest. “In 5 years, we see the company running several repurposed-ethanol JV-plants for animal and human nutrition, while providing enabling human and animal health products (one example is a vaccine like product, which WDL has developed to enhance hatching yield and reduce chick mortality).”

So stay tuned for more exciting news coming from this Delaware-based innovative company.


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