European farmers have long been exploring new avenues for improved self-sufficiency in protein for livestock feed. Now a Swedish biotech company is emerging as a new possible source to fill a big part of that need, reducing European livestock farmers’ dependence on imports from Brazil and other major protein producers.
“The protein we extract is of very good quality,” says Dr Ibrahim. “It is very rich in amino-acid content which is interesting for feed application.” The prospect of creating an inexpensive feed protein is bright, given that the feedstock is currently just a cost for chicken abattoirs. Now they have found someone who might be willing to pay for it.
“Today, the feathers from abattoirs is just a cost for them, and globally some 5m tonnes of feathers are produced and destroyed annually,” says Edvard Hall, managing director of Bioextrax, now a listed company on the Stockholm Stock Exchange. “A poultry feather contains 91% protein and we´re able to extract 90%, which could be a good replacement for soyabean meal,” he explains.
Hypothetically, out of the 5m tonnes of feathers, it would be possible to produce some 4m tonnes of high-grade protein for feed additive.
Bioextrax uses microbes to break down the bacterium’s cell walls so they become highly digestible, nutritious, and rich in amino acids, making them an ideal alternative protein source.
Good amino acid profile
“We could make a remarkable dent in the global protein market,” Mr Hall claims. The protein derived from the poultry feathers has many advantages: One is returning amino acids to chickens which they otherwise are deficient in. “Chickens pick at each other’s feathers, not because they are mean but because the feathers contain amino acids they need. If we can return this in their feed we could avoid that problem,” says Mr Hall.
But poultry feathers are not the only source of valuable feed proteins for Bioextrax. The company originally started producing bio-degradable plastics and in the process can produce hydrolysed single cell proteins, which are easy for animals to digest. “The advantage with single cell protein is that it is already hydrolysed (broken down), a process which normally takes place in the animal’s stomach,” he explains. “The organic pigmeat industry has long been searching for organic protein and our single cell protein could meet that demand.”
The feedstock here is not poultry feathers but other food waste products like whey and molasses. The process of producing bio-degradable plastics starts with a group of bacteria that is fed, for instance, molasses. After that, another group of bacteria is introduced, which extract the ‘plastic’ out of the cells. What is left are the cell membranes, which can be fed as hydrolysed single cell protein.
According to Mr Hall, producing bio-degradable plastics is not a new invention, but the plastics that Bioextrax is able to produce have many environmental advantages. “We can produce our plastics from secondary feedstocks, thus not competing with produce that otherwise could go to food. Our plastic has many similarities with plastics derived from fossil sources, but it´s less costly. Lastly, we do not use any chemicals or other pollutants – just bacteria – in the production process.”
We can produce our plastics from secondary feedstocks, thus not competing with produce that otherwise could go to food.
Edvard Hall, managing director of Bioextrax
Depending on the feedstock, the protein by-product could comprise up to 40% of the total output. There is also the possibility to combine the hydrolysed poultry feathers with the bio-plastics production. “We can produce plastics with much less density than fossil plastics and with special qualities by adding feather fibres,” says Mr Ibrahim. “Either we add our product to conventional plastic products or make a 100% bio-degradable plastic from our feedstock.”
The ratio of producing bio-plastics versus feed protein will depend on their relative profitability. “When it comes to the proteins, we aim at a production cost of less than €0.5/kg (£4.50/kg),” Mr Hall says.
Scaling up production
It is feasible to use the process to produce protein for human consumption, but it would require considerable regulatory work, and is not on the agenda as yet, he adds. With respect to the plastics, some 300m tonnes are produced globally each year; if Bioextrax could claim 10m tonnes of that it would produce 3-4m tonnes of protein.
The firm is already thinking big and is now looking for industrial partners not only in Sweden, but in the EU and US as well. “We have to be able to scale up production quite a lot, otherwise it will not be feasible,” says Mr Hall. He is now looking for partners to supply the feathers and feedstock for the bio-plastics, feed producers to develop feed mixtures, and bio-plastic buyers.
“We are able to take on all the feathers produced in Sweden but it could be more attractive to locate in countries like Holland; where transport distances are short, or the US with its huge poultry production, adds Mr Ibrahim.
Fact and figures
- Organic production
- 40-90% protein
- Promising amino-acid profile
- 100% bio-based and non-GMO
- 99.7% digestibility