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L-R: Brevel founders Yonatan Golan CEO, Ido Golan CTO, Matan Golan, COO
L-R: Brevel founders Yonatan Golan CEO, Ido Golan CTO, Matan Golan, COO. Image credit Kira Kletsky

Brevel unveils commercial algae protein plant with focus on alt-dairy: ‘Our protein is superior to soy and pea…’

June 4, 2024

Brevel has opened a commercial facility in southern Israel with the capacity to produce hundreds of tons of neutral-tasting, highly-functional algae protein it claims will ultimately be able to compete with pea and soy protein.

The Israeli startup, which was founded by Yonatan (CEO), Ido (CTO), and Matan (COO) Golan in 2016, completed a $18.5 million seed round last summer to help finance the new 27,000sq ft plant, which houses the company’s HQ, R&D labs, food applications lab, and commercial production area.

The site will produce a “steady supply of a white powdered 60-70% microalgae protein concentrate” and a range of high-value co-products, Yonatan Golan told AgFunderNews: “Our protein is superior to soy and pea protein in terms of flavor and color, plus it’s non-allergenic and much more sustainable in terms of water and land usage as well as CO2 emissions.”

As for pricing, he said, “Initially, of course, it will be more expensive than pea and soy, but within the reasonable range of $15-20/kg. In the mid-term I expect to drop the rates below the $10/kg mark which will place us as a highly viable solution for the majority of the market. And in the long term, as we commercialize additional co-products and increase profitability, we will be able to price our protein at parity with pea and even soy.”

First products containing the protein expected to launch in 2025

He added: “We starting with a 5,000-liter bioreactor and have the ability to scale to a total of 30,000-liters. The goal is for this plant to serve as the starting point for larger manufacturing facilities to be developed and operated as joint ventures with partners worldwide. We already have a first such agreement for a 900,000-liter plant and are working on securing additional agreements with global partners.”

While Brevel is still working with Israeli alt dairy co Vgarden, its main focus is on the US market, said Golan. “We plan to launch the first products with Brevel’s protein inside in early 2025.

“The applications we are focused on and in which we can provide maximal value is in dairy alternatives. This is because of our ability to provide a very neutrally flavored and white protein which can be easily used in plant-based cheese and milk products without compromising taste or color. Together with the nutritional value we also provide functionality such as foaming, emulsification, gelling and more. We are now working with different companies to provide this value.”

Small-scale bioreactors deploying Bevel's patented process
According to CEO Yonatan Golan, Brevel’s algae protein does not have the off tastes associated with plant proteins such as soy and pea and can serve as an effective replacement in dairy alternatives. Image credit: Brevel

High-value co-products

Algae is an exciting source of food and nutrition, with some firms cultivating it outdoors in open ponds or in glass tubing to make ingredients such as spirulina and astaxanthin. Others produce lipids such as omega-3 DHA indoors via ‘dark fermentation’ (ie. without light).

Attempts to make an economically viable food protein from algae have been less successful, according to Brevel, which claims to have developed a high-yielding process combining LED lighting and sugar-based (‘dark’) fermentation.

Brevel’s process yields a neutral-tasting complete protein (50%+ of the biomass), and co-products including carotenoids, fibers, and polar lipids.

“We are deep in the R&D stage of extracting and purifying the polar lipids which serve as emulsifiers. We are also working on the carotenoids. After we complete the development of these we will work on the soluble fibers and insoluble protein.  The majority of these products are relevant for the food industry and some for the nutraceutical market.”

The regulatory pathway

Brevel uses a non-GMO chlorella strain that is “GRAS approved [in the US] and not considered a Novel Food by EFSA,” added Golan. “However, we need to go through the regulatory process for the ingredients extracted from it. We are already in progress in this process.”

According to Golan, the light “does not alter the DNA in any way, but induces the microalgae to produce functional proteins, functional lipids, pigments simply because the photosynthetic complex is active and not dormant as would be the case in dark fermentation.”

He added: “The photosynthetic complex is where the large majority of functional proteins produced by microalgae exist and where microalgae are unique compared to other microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria and mycelium.”

Unique process combining ‘dark’ fermentation with sugars and LED lighting

In a recent interview, Golan acknowledged that Australian startup Provectus Algae and companies such as AlgalifVaxa, and Yemoja “have taken the outdoor photobioreactors indoors and are using LEDs instead of sunlight for a more controlled process.”

While this is ideal for high-value ingredients such as nutraceuticals and cosmetics, he claimed, the unit economics don’t make sense for protein. “Even if very cheap energy is used [Algalif and Vaxa use cheap thermoelectric energy in Iceland], the amount of light needed [even with efficient LEDs] simply drives the cost of production way higher than outdoor cultivation into the 100s of dollars per kilo. This means that indoor LED-lit microalgae is not relevant in any way as a protein source for the food industry.”

Firms using ‘dark’ fermentation, meanwhile, typically focus on “omega-3 DHA, which does not require light, and is a relatively high-value product, or they aim for yellow/golden/white chlorella biomass as a food additive for high-end products,” he claimed. “But the overall value you can extract from the microalgae is very limited and therefore, as a protein source they are simply unable to reach price targets relevant for the mainstream food industry.”

Brevel, he claimed, “is the first and only company globally which has been able to combine fermentation and light in a single process… This means that Brevel can produce biomass with fermentation at yields 100 times higher than light-based cultivation (indoor or outdoor) and also produce all of the commercial value and quality that comes from having light in the process.”

The protein produced by Brevel is also “very different from that produced by dark fermentation as it is much more functional,” he claimed. “A lot of the functionality comes from proteins produced in the photosynthetic complex such as RuBisCo, and the content is much higher. Additionally, light enables the production of valuable co-products alongside protein which significantly increase profitability.”

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