Danish Unibio is leading the way in microbial fermentation technologies. “It’s a concept that we have taken from nature and brought into industry”.
CEO Unibio Henrik Busch-Larsen spoke to SalmonBusiness a few days after it was announced that Cermaq-owners Mitsubishi Corporation was partnering and investing in the company.
“We’ve been at it some time,” said Busch-Larsen.
In collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark and others, Unibio developed a range of technologies under the U-Loop brand. These technologies allow what it calls “the cost-effective, large-scale conversion of methane (natural gas or biogas) into protein using methanotrophic (“methane-eating”) microbes.”
“My father founded it in 2001. I joined the company in 2009 and became CEO in 2012. Since then, I have been in charge of a transiton of a company, taking it from a hardcore R and D based company into a commercial one,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say that this has been decades in the making,” explained Busch-Larsen. The concept of the 1st generational loop fermentation technology was developed in the early 90s and then it was taken to full scale in the late 90s by a company called Norferm.
“My father Ebbe Busch Larsen used to be involved in that project but left it. Shortly after he decided to develop the technology focusing on the vertical loop design that is today used in Unibio,” he added.
While methanotrophic bacteria have been known for decades, and while the process technology has been proven before, at least in part as an older technology was implemented in Norway.
“At Unibio we work with a licencing strategy,” explained Busch-Larsen. The company owns the rights to a unique fermentation technology called the U-Loop technology. This technology enables the production of Uniprotein which has a long shelf life, and the production process always results in a uniform product.
The concept behind the tech is that natural gas (methane) can be converted into a highly concentrated protein product which can be used in feed for animals and salmon.
“It’s a concept that we have taken from nature and brought into industry,” said Busch-Larsen.
Last year, Protelux, the first licensee of Unibio, completed the first full-scale plant in Russia – with the intend to produce protein for the Russian pig and fish feed markets. The U-Loop fermenters are huge with its 35 m high reactors.
“It is built for a 6250 tonnes capacity,” but added that the intend is to reach 100,000 in the next few years. “Though, potential is that globally, it can be brought to the millions – if we aimed to take 1 or 2 per cent of the global market over time”.