AB Agri is among the partners in a government-funded project that seeks to harness microbes to convert waste carbon dioxide into an animal feed protein.

The REACT-FIRST project, supported with £3 million in funding from Innovate UK, aims to make a single cell protein for fish and poultry feeds (branded Proton) using carbon dioxide produced in bio-energy generation. It says the sustainable process will both contribute to meeting the UK’s Net Zero climate change target as well as helping the circular economy.

The project will be led by Nottingham-based Deep Branch with expertise in recycling industrial CO2 into a sustainable feed protein. Alongside AB Agri, commercial partners include Drax, the UK’s largest single site renewable electricity generator which produces Co2; aquafeed manufacturer BioMar; and retailer Sainsbury.

Academic and research partners are the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC); the University of Nottingham’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre for its expertise in gas fermentation; the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling; Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal Rural and Environmental Sciences; and Innogen, the University of Edinburgh centre for value chain integration and responsible innovation.

“Currently, most animal feed protein sources are imported from overseas, making the UK dependent on complicated and fragile supply chains,” notes Deep Branch chief executive Peter Rowe. “REACT-FIRST has been created to focus solely on addressing this problem.”

Valerie Schuster, strategy director at AB Agri, adds: “The world around us is changing. In the past, there has been a growing gap between the animal feed industry and end consumers, who nowadays want to know more about the meat and fish they are eating, where they come from and whether the animals they consume have been raised responsibly. In turn, the industry is obliged to share more information about the feed animals consume, where it comes from, and how we do more with less to meet the needs of a growing population, while preserving the planet.

“REACT-FIRST provides a way of doing exactly this: by growing single-cell protein using CO2 emissions from industry, it creates a new, scalable and circular protein. This opportunity can help feed manufacturers and farmers improve animal nutrition and wellbeing via a high-quality ingredient that is consistent and can easily be traced back to its origins.”

BioMar’s vice-president salmon, Paddy Campbell says that feeds with a minimal environmental impact will be needed to help aquaculture double production by 2050 to meet growing demand for farmed fish. “The REACT-FIRST project is the first step towards the commercial development of a new potentially game-changing protein source using new technology to capture waste CO2 and create a high-value sustainable protein suitable for the aquaculture industry.

“At BioMar we are constantly seeking innovative raw materials that don’t compete with human food production and nutrients from by-products that minimise waste. We are excited to be part of this project to see how Proton will perform in aquaculture feed.”