07.14.2019

Yum, yum, CO2 in my tum – NovoNutrients moves forward with CO2 to fish feed plans

Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but show him how to make fish food from CO2 and he’s got fish for a lifetime. That’s what NovoNutrients is working on to solve the huge global fishmeal supply/demand issue in the aquaculture industry. You may have seen in the Digest’s “Breaking News” story on Friday, NovoNutrients is moving forward towards their goal of transforming industrial waste CO2 into feed, initially for the fast-growing aquaculture sector, thanks to a $300,000 investment from the U.S. Department of Energy. But that’s not all. The Digest caught up with NovoNutrients leadership and got the scoop on future plans beyond the protein meal business and into Novoceutical – we are talking feed additives like: enzymes, carotenoids, vitamins, and other high-value biochemicals relevant to animal nutrition. In today’s Digest, an in-depth look at the fishmeal supply and demand issue, the technology behind NovoNutrients high-protein NovoMeal, why the partnership with NREL, what this DOE funding is doing to move things forward towards commercialization, a look into the crystal ball of NovoNutrients’ future, and more.

The supply/demand issue

‘There’s a lot of fish in the sea’ is something you have probably heard at least once in your life, maybe from your Mom after a break up or a best friend as they handed you a spoon and ice cream carton. But are there really a lot of fish in the sea? It all comes down to supply and demand…more fish total demand (apparently we really like our salmon and bass!) but less fishmeal supply. Less wild fish are being caught (because there are less of them out there and there is higher demand for seafood globally) and more and more fish are being raised via aquaculture to try and meet the higher demand for the tasty sea creatures that humans love so much. But with more aquaculture, there is more demand for fishmeal to feed them. But supply is not keeping up with the demand, so the price is going up, up and away. Check out NovoNutrients data below to get a visual on the whole supply and demand issue. So how do you feed all those fish? How do you meet the increasing demand when supply is so low for fish meal?

How to feed the fish?

The days of mobsters ‘feeding you to the fish’ are over so there goes that idea. NovoNutrients has a much better, and legal, idea…taking CO2 and converting it into high-protein feed. How can they do that? Let’s get techy. To start, NREL’s existing aerobic bioreaction CFD models will be adapted to NovoNutrients’ gas fermentation (CO2, H2, O2) technology. The multiphysics CFD simulations require thousands of high performance computing node hours to simulate the complex geometries and contents of NovoNutrients’ industrial bioreactors. The experimentally validated CFD models will be used to identify optimally efficient and productive bioreactor designs and operating conditions. Robust, physically-based computational models of the technology will significantly increase productivity and efficiency, accelerating NovoNutrients’ technology to manufacturing scale. “This project supports DOE’s goals for expanding the use of hydrogen in the economy and for making maximal use of fossil fuel energy and other scarce resources,” said Tze. “Without this model, our technology development would rely more on time consuming trial & error experiments, resulting in additional development cycles and less efficient, higher cost, sub-optimal designs.” “Using energy from hydrogen, we transform waste carbon – primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) from untreated industrial emissions – into protein and other high-value products for the aquaculture and animal feed industries,” Tze told The Digest. “In doing so, we address three enormous challenges: the rising costs of feed ingredients for meat and seafood at a time when global consumption is increasing substantially; depletion of the world’s fisheries; and climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. The technology is based on high productivity, energy efficient microbial bio-factories that produce nutrition from CO2 and renewable energy. In creating carbon negative, high value products from low value, problematic wastes, we see a path to worldwide expansion of our manufacturing plants.” Tze told The Digest that their plants can even be carbon negative if powered by renewable energy. “Our technology has the potential to dramatically increase the energy efficiency and productivity of feed and food production in the United States,” said Tze. “Relative to protein produced by conventional agriculture, a single manufacturing plant will be up to 1000x more productive and 100x more energy efficient. If powered by renewable energy, our plants will be carbon negative, capturing up to 1.9 tons of CO2 per ton of feed produced.”

Why NREL?

NREL has unique capabilities for creating and running such computational models. “The high performance computing resources and computational fluid dynamic modeling expertise of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will enable us to develop critical in-silico tools which will improve and accelerate our development of better gas fermentation bioreactors at scale,” Brian Sefton, CTO, Founder, and President of NovoNutrients told The Digest. NovoNutrients and NREL are looking for others to work with as well to speed things up to commercialization. “Our business will be increasingly dependent on successful partnerships: strategic project financing from animal nutrition companies, pilots with CO2 emitters, relationships with hydrogen producers and hydrogen production technology companies, long-term cooperation with EPC firms, broad collaboration with multi-industry conglomerates, working with cutting edge synbio tools, and a wide variety of collaborative research with institutions and other SMEs,” said David Tze, NovoNutrients’ CEO.

The DOE funding

The $300K in funding from DOE is key to move things forward for NovoNutrients because it will allow their modeling to be done at least a year earlier than they would have otherwise, according to Tze. “The alternative would have been to wait to initiate until after we’d completed a Series A venture round.” Sefton told The Digest that this grant has a big impact for next steps. “Converting CO2 into new products through gas fermentation presents a number of complex engineering problems,” said Sefton. “This grant will allow the gas fermentation experience we have at Novonutrients to be combined with the expertise and high performance computing capabilities of NREL to push forward the ability to model these systems. Application of this computational fluid dynamic modeling work will accelerate the development and deployment our CO2 to new product technology.” A single NovoNutrients’ commercial manufacturing plant will capture and convert over 200,000 tons/yr of CO2 into over 100,000 tons/yr of high-protein feed. Key to the rapid and widespread deployment of the technology is maximization of its productivity and energy efficiency. That’s big news for aquaculture which is desperate to meet its increasing demand for fishmeal.

What the future holds

If we could look into a crystal ball, what would we see for NovoNutrients? Tze gave The Digest an exclusive glimpse into what their plans are for the future. “In a year, we should be able to talk about a specific market introduction plant site,” said Tze. “That will be a facility where we’d make commercial volumes of Novoceuticals and early volumes of Novomeal. Beyond the protein meal business, we are also building another product family on that same platform: Novoceuticals. That’s what we’ve dubbed our line of feed additives: enzymes, carotenoids, vitamins, and other high-value biochemicals relevant to animal nutrition. Some of that we can achieve through our IP for manipulating the membership of our consortium. Other products will require the application of synbio tools. We’ll have both natural and GMO products in our line-up.” “Three years after that, we anticipate being active with a mass production plant for a version of Novomeal that has significantly more nutritional value per ton than fishmeal, but sells for less. The feed markets will be mainstream aquaculture and pets, as well as specialty poultry and swine. Also, plant-based protein foodtech companies will be knocking on our door, looking for natural ingredients to replace the relatively expensive and low nutrition-soy and pea protein in their increasingly popular burgers and other vegetarian-friendly products.”  

Bottom Line

We see no reason why mobsters need to start feeding the fish again as NovoNutrients is getting closer to commercialization with NREL and DOE’s help. It seems they found a win-win-win solution to the environmental issue of CO2 and converting it into something valuable and useful that we don’t have enough of to meet aquaculture’s demand. Even better is that they are already looking outside aquaculture and seeing the possibilities beyond.
This article appeared on the BioFuels Digest website at http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2019/07/14/yum-yum-co2-in-my-tum-novonutrients-moves-forward-with-co2-to-fish-feed-plans/
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