MiAlgae, an Edinburgh-based biotech startup exploring new production techniques for microalgae, has raised £1 million ($1.3 million) to seek commercialisation in aquaculture and pet food.
Previous investors joining this round are Equity Gap, the Scottish Investment Bank, and Old College Capital. Hillhouse Group joined the round as a new investor.
Founded by Douglas Martin in 2016 while he was studying Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, MiAlgae was spun out from there with support from Edinburgh Innovations, the university’s commercialisation service. Martin’s microalgae production bears a glint of his Scotch surroundings: his company’s method involves the use of co-products from the whisky distillation process. (Scotch whisky exports reached £4.7 bilion in 2018.)
An imaginarium of possibilities
AFN recently examined the various global production processes of macro-algae and micro-algae, digging into where these remarkable ocean-dwelling organisms could be most useful to our food systems. It turns out there are hundreds of thousands of species of micro-algae floating through the world’s waterways and just a fraction have been categorised or studied.
Without doubt, that leaves an imaginarium of possibilities to explore. For decades, the hottest and most tantalising possibilities related to biofuels. Since then, other dreams have bubbled up. Some recognise micro-algae as potential alternatives to proteins. Others reckon they can replace plastics. On top of that, they are nutritious animal feed supplements. And they could even capture lots of carbon. After all, even without ingenious human production systems, micro-algae are crucial on the carbon front. Together, they absorb more carbon dioxide and produce far more oxygen than the world’s rainforests.
For the team at Mialgae, their strategic tiller has turned sharply toward algae’s use in the creation of fish and animal feed. It offers omega-3 rich nutrients that reduce the need for vaccines and antibiotics while improving growth rates. It can help wean cats and dogs onto a less carnivorous diet, and can also reduce the need for feeding farmed fish with wild fish stocks. MiAlgae estimates, for instance, that one tonne of its algae saves up to 30 tonnes of wild fish.
“MiAlgae has essentially taken a by-product from one industry and turned it into a solution for another industry. Through the application of biotechnology, MiAlgae is finding solutions to feed the world’s population, and with the global aquaculture industry set to double in size in the next ten years, this is a very promising business indeed,” said Andrew Vernon of Hillhouse Group, in a press release sent to AFN.
Dog food deals
Also chiming in via the press release was Fraser Lusty, an investment director at Equity Gap: “Since our last investment in MiAlgae 18 months ago, the business has achieved a great deal, designing and building its pilot plant, making its first sales to a premium dog food company, and beginning production with its first large scale tank.”
“The business now turns its focus to commercialisation and scaling up,” Lusty outlined: “The global pet food market is worth $100 billion and growing at around 5%. MiAlgae plans to supply customers in both the pet food market and the aquacultural industry in the next 12 months.”
In a statement, the MiAlgae team say they will use the investment to double the size of its business premises, commission a demonstrator plant in East Lothian and make five new appointments in 2020.
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