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Making fish feed from methane: The perfect formula for salmon diets?

For once volumes seem to be viable, with US biotech firm's plans for 100,000 metric tons of production.

The R&D and market introduction facility announced by US biotech company Calysta last week may mark the start of real volumes of a viable protein substitute in aquaculture feed, with plans afoot for a 100,000 metric-ton US production plant expected later this year.

Harnessing destructive greenhouse gas methane to produce a protein suitable for fishmeal and soy substitution, Calysta would appear to have a winning formula.

“We’re arriving at the right time,” CEO Alan Shaw told IntraFish when we spoke to him following the announcement.

While FeedKind could technically be used to replace 100 percent of fishmeal in aqua feed diets, Calysta advises a 10 percent replacement. The product does not contain omega-3 oils and “we don’t need to claim that,” said Shaw.

“It’s really about reducing reliance on soy and vegetable-based protein," Shaw said. "Salmon are carnivores -- they don’t actually like vegetable-based protein very much -- but in trials incidences of enteritis [a condition induced by soy which inflames the salmon’s intestine] tailed off dramatically when FeedKind was used in the diet.”

At 30 percent replacement, FeedKind gives faster growth, added Josh Silverman, Calysta’s founder and chief technology officer.

The research and development and market introduction facility announced for construction in the United Kingdom will produce contemporary samples to re-introduce the product to potential customers.

Having acquired Stavanger-based BioProtein in 2014, and along with it the proprietary technology to produce feed protein from methane gas, Calysta believes now is the right time for re-entry.

It’s an active space, said Shaw, mentioning Cargill’s acquisition of Ewos among other deals.

Skyrocketing natural gas prices were largely to blame for the closure of the BioProtein plant in the mid-2000s, where, despite “excellent uptake,” according to Shaw, economics were not on its side.

“Back then, natural gas prices were at $10 (€9.20) to $15 (€13.80) per mmBtu. Now, in the United States, you can produce gas for a tenth of this price,” said Shaw.

And while methane prices are set to remain low for the foreseeable future, Calysta’s production is no longer so reliant on them, with a more efficient process and a lot of new and different sources of methane available to the company: Calysta’s market reintroduction facility will use natural gas from local landfill as well as piped methane.

While Calysta’s initial focus will be on the salmon sector, where most of its research and data has been generated, the company has plans to expand beyond this, with the protein suited to several other farmed seafood diets, including shrimp.