Carbon recycling project launches with £3million Innovate UK funding

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The project will obtain critical data about a new single-cell protein used in fish and poultry feed that is set to sustainably transform the UK’s aquaculture and poultry industries.

A ground-breaking carbon recycling project, REACT-FIRST, that is set to transform the UK’s food production systems, has launched Friday.

REACT-FIRST is the UK’s first-ever scalable route to the sustainable generation of protein capturing the carbon dioxide from bio-energy generation. It launches with financial support from the government in the form of £3M funding from Innovate UK and will contribute to meeting the UK’s Net Zero climate change commitment as well as to the circular economy.

REACT-FIRST is led by carbon recycling biotechnology company Deep Branch, which has pioneered a process that uses microbes to convert carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and turns them into high-value proteins.

“UK is dependent on complicated and fragile supply chains”
The project launches with the first-of-its-kind, end-to-end value-chain-wide consortium of ten industry and academic partners, which all share a commitment to tackling the global climate crisis and the goal of achieving neutral/negative carbon emissions. The members of the REACT-FIRST consortium are:

  • Deep Branch – experts in recycling industrial CO2 into cost-competitive protein for high-value, sustainable animal feed
  • Drax – the UK’s largest single site renewable electricity generator and pioneer of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)
  • BioMar – one of the world’s largest aquafeed producers
    AB Agri – a global agri-food business and leading producer of monogastric feed
  • Sainsbury’s – major UK seafood retailer
  • Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) – a network of 100+ key stakeholders from the aquaculture industry
  • Synthetic Biology Research Centre, University of Nottingham (SBRC Nottingham) – the world-leading gas fermentation research group
  • The Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling
  • Nottingham Trent University, School of Animal Rural and Environmental Sciences
  • Innogen, University of Edinburgh

Commenting on the significance of the REACT-FIRST project, Peter Rowe, CEO of Deep Branch, said: “Currently, most animal feed protein sources are imported from overseas, making the UK dependent on complicated and fragile supply chains. REACT-FIRST has been created to focus solely on addressing this problem.

Peter Rowe, CEO of Deep Branch.

“Projects like REACT-FIRST are key to help the industry move towards achieving net-zero emissions. Its solution uses the technology developed by Deep Branch, but whilst this has huge transformative potential, commercialisation is not possible without cooperation with key stakeholders across the value chain. REACT-FIRST addresses this, with its consortium of industrial and academic organisations, and even though relationships within these verticals are well established, the project represents the first time that the resources and expertise of all parties have been unified towards a single goal.”

The work of REACT-FIRST centres around the use of microbes to convert CO2 directly from industrial emissions into high-value products, specifically a totally novel, new type of single-cell protein, or SCP, called Proton produced by Deep Branch.

“This is used in fish and poultry feed and represents a new way of generating more sustainable animal feeds,” said Rowe.

“REACT-FIRST will obtain critical data about cost, digestibility, nutritional quality and carbon footprint of Proton. Each of the project’s partners is playing an active role in the development of the process and generation of this critical data, harnessing their involvement and shared knowledge in the field of carbon emissions, the production supply chain, and ground-breaking biotechnology and technology, to create sustainable protein feed sources that will contribute to reducing the environmental impact of meat production systems.”

“Will help increase UK agricultural productivity and global competitiveness”
Speaking about the REACT-FIRST project, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “To protect our environment and meet our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we must harness the very best of UK innovation across all sectors, supporting the most creative and pioneering ideas.

“From robotics assisting our farmers in fruit picking, to technology that converts CO2-to clean animal feed, the incredible and cutting-edge projects we are backing today represent the future of farming. Working with the best of British science, we are accelerating the transition to net zero food production, boosting jobs and productivity and driving forward the UK’s economic recovery.”

Melanie Welham, Executive Director, BBSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation, added: “This project, and others like it will help increase UK agricultural productivity and global competitiveness. At UKRI our aim is to turn the food production sector into a beacon of innovation. Brilliant ideas like this one go a long way to making food production more sustainable, efficient and less carbon intensive but they need support to get them from the drawing board to the farm.

“UKRI’s funding programme for this sector is ongoing. In our current funding round we’ve awarded funding to 9 innovative companies. In the future we encourage businesses to come forward with fresh ideas to help UK agriculture.”

Partners
Drax Group last year announced its world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030 by using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), and has been working with Deep Branch to explore the feasibility of using its carbon dioxide emissions to make proteins for sustainable animal feed products. Through the REACT-FIRST project, Drax is providing further support through its expertise in site integration and CO2 lifecycle analysis, as Drax Group’s Chief Innovation Officer, Jason Shipstone, explained: “By working with other businesses through the REACT-FIRST consortium, together we can help more difficult to de-carbonise sectors, like agriculture, to make positive changes to address the climate crisis.”

Global innovators in high performance aquaculture feed BioMar is involved in production of trial feeds and testing of the high potential raw material Proton, focusing on sustainability, performance, digestibility and other parameters essential for fish health and growth.

Paddy Campbell, VP Salmon at BioMar Group, said: “Aquaculture is expected to double production by 2050 however to achieve this we need feeds with minimal environmental impact. The REACT-FIRST project is the first step towards the commercial development of a new potentially game-changing protein source, Proton; using new technology to capture waste CO2 and creating 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,” stated Campbell.

AB Agri’s role in REACT-FIRST is to complement the work of its consortium’s technology and science partners with its insights into animal feed markets, customer needs and end consumer demands. The agri-food company uses its expertise and experience to ensure end products are viable, and plays an integral role in driving a more responsible supply of protein around the world.

Valerie Schuster, Strategy Director at AB Agri, comments: “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, which is the opportunity to help feed manufacturers and farmers and improve animal nutrition and wellbeing via a high-quality ingredient that is consistent and can easily be traced back to its origins.”

Scientists from the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture are tasked with investigating the feasibility of microbial single-cell protein (SCP) as a substitute for marine and terrestrial meal in salmon aquafeeds. The Institute’s Dr Mónica Betancor is leading the study, and said: “The project aims to evaluate and validate a SCP produced from industrial emissions of CO2, with an amino acid profile tailored to meet the end-user requirements of the aquafeed industry, and also support and improve the sustainability and development of UK aquaculture by contributing to UK food security.

“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector, with the UK salmon industry expected to increase significantly. Such growth can only be achieved in a sustainable manner by replacing the traditionally used marine ingredients in aquafeeds – fish meal and fish oil – for more sustainable options. The main alternative to fish meal in aquafeeds is vegetable meal, however, this has its constraints, and single-cell protein is an excellent alternative as it is nutritionally optimised to meet the demands of aquaculture. Our work in the REACT-FIRST project will determine its feasibility as a substitute for other protein sources in the feeds for farmed salmon.”

Polly Douglas, aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, added: “REACT-FIRST is a highly innovative way of turning the CO2 produced by another process into a key component of our food chain, providing a sustainable source of feed for fish. It could make a significant contribution to food security in the UK, while reducing the supply chain’s carbon footprint – both of which have seldom been of more relevance.”