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Getting biomass fermentation closer to industrial scale

MicroHarvest is working on diversifying its production to ingredients that are not only a source of protein but support growth performance in aquaculture.

MicroHarvest Team at their Lisbon Pilot Plant
MicroHarvest team at their Lisbon pilot plant. Credits: MicroHarvest
March 14, 2024

Based in Hamburg and Lisbon, MicroHarvest has experienced fast growth since its inception in 2021. Having raised EUR 10 million to date, the company has already successfully achieved several milestones towards commercialization, including the launch of its pilot plant last November in Lisbon and securing a manufacturing partner.

“We’ve made several developments since November. We’ve got our products registered in the feed material list and scaled production up to 1 tonne per week,” MicroHarvest co-founder and CEO Katelijne Bekers told at the North Atlantic Seafood Forum.

The company has been working on further developments diversifying its production to ingredients that are not only a source of protein but support growth performance, for example, in shrimp.

“We have run our first digestibility test with salmon with great results, and additional trials in tests in Iceland will be running soon,” Bekers said. “We have also run tests on shrimp. Initially, our acceptability tests replacing 10% of fishmeal showed equal growth performance. We have run further tests at IMAQUA in Europe and Kasetstart University in Thailand, and we are also working in Vietnam with ShrimpVet, further researching the potential of our different products.”

“In the short to medium term, we have a contract with a manufacturer who is equipped to produce our specialty product. We also intend to work with them to put the first volumes of our single-cell proteins onto the market and have a total capacity of up to 300 tonnes to scale. In the medium term, we plan to run a 15-kilotonne factory, for which we are raising funds and are in advanced discussion with strategic partners,” Bekkers said.

European industry alliance for the food fermentation sector

MicroHarvest has become the first biomass fermentation player to join Food Fermentation Europe (FFE), the industry alliance in Europe for the food fermentation sector.

With FFE already comprising pioneering precision fermentation companies, MicroHarvest’s inclusion in the alliance validates the acceptance of biomass-fermented ingredients within the sector and opens the doors to cooperation with other industry players in delivering a more sustainable food system and wider uptake of the next generation of animal-free food.

FFE president and Better Dairy CEO Jevan Nagarajah stated, “We are delighted to welcome MicroHarvest into our alliance as our first biomass fermentation member. Leveraging their unique perspectives, we will continue to chart new frontiers for European food systems and pave the way for a more environmentally conscious future.”

While precision fermentation is a technology that allows the rewiring of microorganisms as “production factories” for specific functional ingredients, biomass fermentation uses the high protein content and rapid growth of microorganisms to efficiently make highly scalable amounts of protein-rich foods.

“We’ve made some great progress alone but together with FFE we can make an even greater impact, we are thrilled to join the ranks. We look forward to listening to different partners and exploring the full potential of fermentation-enabled solutions. By communicating and, most importantly, acting together, we can drive positive change in the food system. We believe the world will be eager to learn what food fermentation can do for it,” Bekers said.