Arbiom reimagines wood as a novel protein ingredient for aquafeed

Published on
September 9, 2019

In the year since agri-biotech company Arbiom announced that samples of its innovative wood-to-food protein ingredient SylPro were available for trials, the product has been undergoing intensive assessments with hybrid striped bass at Texas A&M University and Atlantic salmon and tilapia at Matis in Iceland. 

Arbiom has its foundations in bioconversion processing technology, specifically in woody biomass as an undervalued carbon source. The initial trials concentrate on material handling and nutritional performance, and are an essential step towards creating a commercial product. 

“Our primary focus is on carnivorous species, but we are also looking for a fit with species such as shrimp, because our yeast product is robust and economical,” Ricardo Ekmay, Arbiom’s vice president of nutrition, told SeafoodSource.  

Wood is a natural fit for aquafeed, thanks to its plentiful nature and the declining demand for the resource in other industries, Ekmay said.

“The demand for low value goods such as newsprint are in decline, and the efficiencies of biomass in/biomass out are no longer there, so we saw an opportunity to add value to the woody biomass by turning it into substrates that are highly fermentable and digestible. Protein is a relatively unexplored but critical resource for the future, and we realized that there was great potential in producing protein-rich ingredients for aquaculture and livestock,” Emily Glen, Arbiom’s business development director, told SeafoodSource. 

She explained that when a tree falls and starts to degrade, microorganisms feed from the nutrients in the wood and accelerate decomposition.

“Our technology mimics that natural process, but faster and at larger scale, converting wood into food for microorganisms that we process into a single-cell yeast protein that is suitable as a replacement for fish meal or plant protein concentrates,” she said.

According to Ekmay, SylPro has four key advantages to feed manufacturers; it offers high nutritional quality with a favorable amino acid profile, it is cost-effective, and it is sustainable and traceable. 

“We can for example, tell a customer which forest the wood came from and work with the main certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council,” he said. 

Ekmay said Arbiom does not take its attributes for granted, but explained that the company consults with a wide range of potential feed customers to validate the high protein concentrate. The company partners with biomass stakeholders and leading firms in aquaculture, biotechnology and bio-based industries, and recently welcomed two new partners to help continue the development of its technology. BioProcess Pilot Facility BV (BPF) in the Netherlands, and Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEU) in Belgium, will lend their expertise in scaling-up wood fractionation processes, and help Arbiom to create an effective wood-to-food value chain.

“Arbiom’s wood-to-food technology has shown enormous promise in its potential to help address the looming global food shortage,” said Peter Flippo, BPF business development manager. 

Wim Soetaert, chief executive officer of BBEU is in agreement. 

“BBEU understands the challenges associated with scale-up of innovative bioconversion technologies, and we are pleased to join the Sylfeed consortium and lend our expertise and years of experience to Arbiom’s mission to commercialize its technology,” he said.

Arbiom opened its first pilot plant in Norton, Virginia, U.S.A., in 2013, to test out its pre-treatment and enzymatic hydrolysis process technology and produce a base product. A fermentation plant was added in 2018, which further facilitated production of SylPro. 

Results from the initial trials at Texas A&M have now been published, and compare the performance of SylPro to conventional plant and animal protein sources in aquafeed. The study concludes that SylPro behaves in a similar or even superior way to conventional protein ingredients in extruded feeds. 

“Assessment of the material handling characteristics of SylPro suggest that it performs well in a range of extrusion conditions, and at varying inclusion levels in extruded feed. The results also highlighted that the product has additional functional binding properties, which suggests that SylPro could reduce the need for binding agents,” Ekmay said. 

A second study evaluated the nutritional performance of SylPro at various inclusion rates, when fed to hybrid striped bass. Growth rates, body composition, nutrient digestibility and general gastrointestinal health were evaluated over a 60-day period, and the 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 a 20 percent inclusion level of SylPro compared to the control diet, and a crude protein digestibility of 97 percent. This means that our product could be used to replace fish meal or plant-based proteins in hybrid striped bass diets, and deliver the same nutritional performance as conventional protein sources up to a 20 percent inclusion level,” he said.

According to Ekmay, the company is now on the upward trajectory toward commercialization and thinking about the future.

A proof of concept demonstration plant is planned for France, co-located with a pulp and paper mill, to benefit logistics and cost. If successful, the goal is to open several production facilities, either co-located with mills, or with cogeneration plants, with an ultimate aim of achieving commercial-scale production of around 100,000 tons of SylPro per year.

Photo courtesy of Shuttertstock

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