Provectus Algae is entering the livestock methane reduction market with an indoor growing system it claims transforms the unit economics of growing Asparagopsis (red seaweed) for feed additives.
The Queensland-based startup has just opened a 30,000-liter demonstration plant for growing Asparagopsis, which can scale up to 160,000 liters, with construction of a larger-scale facility planned in 2024.
By 2025, Provectus aims to supply Asparagopsis extracts to over 250,000 animals, reducing enteric methane emissions by 500,000+ metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually.
The enteric methane reduction challenge
A potent greenhouse gas, methane is produced in ruminants such as cows and sheep in a stomach compartment called the rumen. Here, microbes break down complex carbs to produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which are in turn converted into methane by another set of microbes (methanogens) and belched out.
Several companies have developed feed additives claimed to inhibit the production of enteric methane, from DSM (3-NOP—trade name Bovaer), to Agolin (a blend of plant extracts) and Mootral Ruminant (garlic and citrus extracts) to CH4 Global, Symbrosia, Future Feed, Dulabio and Volta Greentech (red seaweed extracts, which contain methane inhibitors such as bromoform). These generally work by disrupting the metabolic pathways of methanogens.
Of the available solutions above, red seaweed (Asparagopsis) is widely understood to be the most effective, but presents production and scaling challenges, prompting some startups such as Number 8 Bio to explore other means of producing the bioactives in the seaweed, such as microbial fermentation.
A scalable, modular, biomanufacturing platform
Founded in 2017 by marine biotechnologist Nusqe Spanton, Provectus Algae has developed closed-system automated bioreactors growing photosynthetic algae at high densities with a series of LED lights.
“It’s a scalable, modular, biomanufacturing platform that looks a bit like an Amazon warehouse with racking systems,” added Spanton, who recently secured a strategic investment from CJ Bio, part of Korean biomanufacturing giant CJ CheilJedang to expand his production platform.
“We can roll this system out anywhere in the world and bring production on very, very fast.”
Through its cloud-enabled, automated “self-optimizing” system, Provectus can deliver any type of light in the visible spectrum but also in the infrared and UV spectrum, manipulating the algae and pushing it down a metabolic pathway to increase the production of a target substance, said Spanton.
Despite a perceived price barrier to entry for methane-reducing feed additives below 50 cents per daily dose, he claimed, “Asparagopsis companies have struggled to deliver below $1 per dose.”
Provectus Algae’s closed system, he claims, can produce Asparagopsis more rapidly than other land-based growing systems while consistently controlling the expression of the bioactives that can tackle methane such as bromoform, “leading to a step-change in the cost of goods.”
He added: “We are now confident that our approach can deliver scalable production at less than 50 cents per dose. What we needed to do was prove we could be competitive with DSM [which supplies 3-NOP feed additives for methane reduction]. And now we’ve done that, we believe we can own the market.”
Controlling the light…
He told AgFunderNews: “Asparagopsis’ slow growth in conventional aquaculture and ocean farming systems and fluctuations in bioactive compound concentrations are major hurdles to reaching scale and price parity with synthetic alternatives. The biggest difficulty in all of these photosynthetic algae organisms – and red seaweed [macroalgae] is no different – is controlling the light and controlling the environment.
“With our platform we are able to control the productivity of the organism and induce hypergrowth. By tracking its metabolism, we’re also able to tune the environment to upregulate the [production of] target compounds [such as bromoform].
“This means we can guarantee the same quality of product coming out every day, which is really difficult to do if you’re growing this seaweed in an open ocean or open pond environment. My team has been working in aquaculture for 20 years, growing algae at industrial scale, and we know the challenges, which is why we built this system”
He added: “We’ve been working on Asparagopsis for the last eight months and we’ve grown it faster than anyone who’s ever recorded it in scientific literature. In standard aquaculture systems, growth rates are generally a doubling size in 30-60 days. We’ve got a doubling rate of 48 hours and a consistent level of bromoform.”
The go to market strategy
Provectus Algae is “just starting to engage with farmers and feed additive companies,” said Spanton, who said farmers could cover the costs of buying Asparagopsis feed supplements through improved feed conversion rates [meaning they don’t have to use as much feed], while large farmers could also potentially get access to voluntary carbon trading credits.
“It really comes down to the scale of the farmer. If you’re a large farmer and you can go direct to consumer, you may also be able to charge a premium on the product [on the grounds that you’ve lowered its environmental footprint by slashing methane emissions],” added Spanton. “But that’s not guaranteed.
“So what we really need to do is increase yield for farmers. Now there’s a lot of research that’s already out there, so we’re confident that when you have a rate of methane reduction of over 60-70%—and we know that Asparagopsis can deliver a lot more than that—you start to get considerable feed conversion and yield improvements for dairy.
“So we need to deliver them a supplement that substitutes what they’re already using and delivers the same benefits, plus the methane reduction component.”
Asked if Provectus Algae had secured a license from Future Feed* to supply Asparagopsis to the Australian livestock market, Spanton said: “No we do not. Yet.”
*Future Feed has the global IP rights to Asparagopsis seaweed technology developed by Australian government agency CSIRO, Meat and Livestock Australia, and James Cook University.