R&D advances abound LanzaTech’s India contract, NovoNutrients’ food & feed from CO2, Industrial Microbes’ new methane related patent

September 16, 2020 |

LanzaTech’s 2G Ethanol India contract, NovoNutrients’ food & feed from CO2, Industrial Microbes’ new methane related patent

In just the last 24 hours or so there has been a flurry of R&D news. LanzaTech was awarded a contract to commence basic engineering for an integrated processing facility to convert agricultural residues to approximately 16,000 metric tonnes (5.3M gallons) per annum of fuel grade ethanol in India. NovoNutrients announced a relationship with Skretting, a leader in nutrition for fish and shrimp that is testing NovoNutrients novel protein ingredients made from industrial waste carbon dioxide and eyeing an off-take agreement. And Industrial Microbes was issued a foundational U.S. patent for the core component of its technology to turn methane into valuable chemicals using fermentation.

In today’s Digest, the details on all 3 R&D advances, reactions from LanzaTech, NovoNutrients and Industrial Microbes, and more.

LanzaTech’s India contract at 2G ethanol facility

In Illinois, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), a leading Indian Refining company based in Mangalore, is planning to install a second generation (2G) ethanol facility in the State of Karnataka, India and awarded LanzaTech the contract to commence the basic engineering for an integrated processing facility to convert locally available agricultural residues to approximately 16,000 metric tonnes (5.3M gallons) per annum of fuel grade ethanol.

To convert the solid biomass wastes to gases, LanzaTech will deploy commercially proven gasification technology from Ankur Scientific, a waste to energy company that specializes in distributed production, based in Vadodara, India. The resulting carbon rich gas will then be converted to ethanol using LanzaTech’s commercially proven gas fermentation platform. The integrated technology will have the flexibility to process a wide range of biomass feedstocks enabling rapid replication at other locations. A by-product of the project will be a nutrient rich biochar. This will be used as a sustainable and low carbon source of fertilizer for the local community.

The Indian government is encouraging production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural wastes and residues that would otherwise be burnt on the fields and create harmful pollution. Not only does conversion to ethanol create a new source of income for local farmers, it is also in line with the governments biofuels roadmap to increase production of 2G, non-food or feed based ethanol across the country to meet its 20% ethanol blending mandate by 2030.

“In these times of huge changes and economic challenges, this project will hopefully define what the future could look like. This is a project that will not only make clean fuel but will put most of the money back into the local economy and create much needed rural jobs,” said Ankur Jain, Managing Director of Ankur Scientific. “Local agricultural residues from rural areas, with jobs in rural areas generating an advanced Biofuel – Can anything be better? We look forward to successfully commissioning this first of many projects.”

“This project with MRPL will show that a local distributed model is ideally suited to the production of fuels and chemicals through biotechnology,” said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech. “MRPL’s commitment to sustainable development, local jobs and carbon emissions reduction is exemplified by this project and we are delighted to work with them to showcase the viability of distributed fuels production. If COVID and Climate Change are to teach us anything, it is that we must build resilient systems, this means distributed production must become an important part of the future of fuel production.”

Industrial Microbes issuance of key patent

In California, Industrial Microbes, a leader in developing sustainable chemical processes using microbes, was issued a foundational patent in the U.S. (US 10,689,674) for the core component of its technology to turn methane into valuable chemicals using fermentation. This broad patent relates to the successful expression of an enzyme in E. coli that enables the cell to convert methane into methanol.

Methane is an ideal raw material for chemical production due to its low cost, abundance, and energy density. Renewable methane is available from landfills, wastewater treatment, farms, and food waste from the degradation of organic matter. Fermentation of methane into chemicals has attracted a significant amount of attention over the years, but the challenges of working with natural methane-consuming bacteria prevented the commercialization of any such technology. Engineering E. coli to consume methane circumvents many of those problems.

“Methane is a feedstock that has the potential to transform the bioeconomy by lowering costs, unlocking new chemical markets, and reducing carbon emissions. The combination of methane-oxidation and the flexibility of working with E. coli as a host offers a powerful platform for industrial biotechnology,” said Derek Greenfield, Ph.D., Industrial Microbes CEO. “E. coli has been used in large-scale fermentations for decades, and by expanding the suite of raw materials, we can leverage the power of synthetic biology to make chemicals in a low-cost, greener process.”

The ability to oxidize methane into methanol is the critical first biological step for building more complex molecules. Though natural methane-oxidizing bacteria have been studied for decades, no one had previously demonstrated a strain of E. coli with the ability to turn methane into methanol in vivo. This key enzyme can also oxidize ethane, another component of natural gas, into ethanol. This breakthrough has been a component of several subsequent projects by the Industrial Microbes team to build complete biological pathways from methane and ethane to a variety of specialty and commodity chemicals.

NovoNutrients : food and feed from CO₂

Also in California, NovoNutrients, a Silicon Valley based innovator making protein through carbon capture and utilization, has been selected to test at Skretting’s Aquaculture Research Centre facilities, bringing ever closer their shared objective of removing barriers to sustainably fed, affordable food by 2025. NovoNutrients is among a handful of sustainable innovations given a pioneering level of support within Skretting. The explicit goal is striking a procurement contract through which Skretting would commit to purchases of NovoNutrients’ feed ingredients.

“Through cooperation with industry leader, Skretting, NovoNutrients’ path to large-scale manufacturing and adoption is greatly smoothed and shortened. We are thrilled to see this deep push for nutrition innovation. We can feed fish and also push quickly to offer our protein to plant-based meat companies, supplementing or replacing their use of soy and peas,” said NovoNutrients CEO, David Tze.

Now, NovoNutrients is progressing forward with the testing of their protein product within Skretting’s ingredient development process. In September 2020, the first product sample of bacterial protein meal is being shipped to Skretting from NovoNutrients’ Silicon Valley lab. In 2021, samples will originate from one or both of NovoNutrients’ emissions pilot projects, which are planned for the US and Japan, in the value chains for energy, steel, and concrete.

Jenna Bowyer, Skretting’s Category Manager Novel Ingredients, says “We recognize that it’s difficult for a start-up to have a product that is developed enough to enter our ingredient development pipeline and to meet the requirements needed for Skretting to start purchasing any volumes. Our evolving ingredient development pipeline is designed to identify the most promising innovations from these companies and ensure that they get the resources and attention needed to excel within Skretting’s rigorous and incredibly selective evaluation process. We know that financing first-of-a-kind ingredient factories is hard for start-ups and, via the range of different agreements we can apply, we hope to break that limiting cycle and signal to the world which innovators we think have what it takes to go commercial and get big.”

“At Skretting, we have seen that the biggest limitation in the implementation of novel ingredients is scale and a resulting competitive price,” said Robert van den Breemer, Procurement Director, Skretting. “This work allows a game-changing discussion to enable the necessary resources and highlights why we’re involved. We can make a real impact to global sustainability and we see a direct link with supporting our mission of Feeding the Future.”

NovoNutrients transforms industrial emissions that are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) into additives and high-performance protein ingredients, initially for fast-growing fish and shrimp feed markets. Brian Sefton, CTO and founder, explains. “Aquaculture often relies on feeding fish to fish, in the form of fish meal and fish oil ingredients. That supply is limited, volatile, and expensive. To keep aqua feed production from being undersupplied with the nutrients it needs and potentially limiting growth in the aquaculture sector, less costly additives and proteins are needed to make fish feed. Our gas fermentation process is anchored by low blended-cost, massive-scale feedstocks: waste CO2, as well as mixed gas containing hydrogen. The gases grow up our fast-doubling bacterial meal strains, which are natural, have 70%+ protein, and, optionally, integrated additives.”

Skretting’s attention was seized when NovoNutrients was chosen by a panel of 13 fully independent subject matter experts in the fields of nutrition, feed, environment, alternative protein, aquaculture innovation, finance, and assurance at a September 17, 2019 event held by Project X in London. With a systems approach, that event called on innovators in the feed and aquaculture sectors to come forward with sustainable alternatives to transform the industry’s performance. The expert judging panel included representatives from Skretting, IKEA, DTU Aqua, WWF, Cambridge University, Surrey University, DNV GL, and the World Bank, as well as private wealth and impact investment partners, with EIT Climate Kic providing independent observation.

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