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Irish marine ingredients plant moves into commercial stage

The initial plant is now fully integrated but the company’s second plant, planned for Killybegs, is currently on the back burner.

Bio-marine Ingredients Ireland’s (BII) new processing facility in Lough Egish, Co Monaghan, is now fully integrated and up and running, CEO Jason Whooley told IntraFish.

The company, which has received funding from state-owned Enterprise Ireland support, as well as a number of private investors, has invested more than €15 million ($17.4 million) in the plant so far, Whooley said.

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Most recently the plant has installed a new spray dryer, which means it is now fully integrated with everything being produced on site.

“We’re the only ones in Europe doing this for human nutrition,” said Whooley.

The facility has capacity for 12,500 metric tons of fish, with blue whiting as the principal source of raw material in the ingredients processing plant.

“We’ve invested very significant sums of money in the process and now what we’ve done in our plant in Monaghan is we’ve developed a proof of concept really," he said.

BII has also secured planning permission for a second larger marine ingredients processing facility in Killybegs, Co., Donegal which will cost an estimated €35 million ($40.6 million) to develop and will have capacity for 120,000 metric tons of fish.

Construction was initially scheduled to get underway in 2018, but this is now on the back burner, said Whooley.

“We’re not under construction, we just own the site in Killybegs,” said Whooley. “We have the opportunity to scale in due course, when we’re comfortable that’s the right thing to do.

“We’re still an early stage company but we’re now moving from the start-up phase to commercial and that’s a very exciting stage to be in.”

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BII is a joint venture between the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation and Norwegian firm Biomarine Science Technology.

“Construction this year [of the second plant] might have been an original plan when the company was first founded, but because of planning issues we had with the Killybegs’ site, we moved onto a plan B – which is the Monaghan plant which is now fully integrated and operational," Whooley said.

BII has been producing commercially from the Monaghan plant since the first quarter of the year and now has its own spray dryer on site, which means rather than going to third parties in the UK, the company is now in a position where it can produce everything in its own facility.

“From a human nutrition point of view that’s hugely important because it means we have full control of the product from start to finish,” said Whooley.

The company’s target market for its products is in the human nutrition space, particularly in Asia, where it has “an extensive marketing campaign planned, really to accelerate our sales."

But BII also has important customers all around the world including some of the major human nutrition companies, and the major ingredient companies.

“We are bringing something pretty unique to the market in terms of a protein powder derived from fish,” said Whooley.

“So getting the market accustomed to that, familiar with it and understanding the potential applications for that powder, is something that doesn’t happen overnight."

The company is also looking at what lessons it can learn from the success of the dairy sector in Ireland – which has had a “hugely successful journey with whey” -- and it has brought in experienced ingredients staff on the R&D and the business development side.

“We’re looking to learn from experiences of Irish dairy sector and just apply it to a different raw material,” said Whooley.

Open to new ideas

While BII is just working with blue whiting as a raw material for now, it is also open for other companies to try out other raw materials in its facility.

A significant issue in the industry is that of fish waste and trying to convert unwanted raw material into value.

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“Given we have a plant now that takes in frozen raw material as its feedstock, we can bring raw material from anywhere in the world into this facility and effectively test it,” said Whooley.

“So if there are companies out there who have a raw material they think has a value, rather than try to find private facilities or test facilities in different locations, we now have this integrated facility that can take any frozen raw material from anywhere in the world and run it through our plant to see if it’s a useful feedstock where we can create value collectively and that’s a huge opportunity for the fishing industry around the world.”

Although the plant has a capacity of 12,000 metric tons of raw material it is not running at that capacity just yet.

"We need to not just produce but ensure that we sell, and also that we sell to the appropriate segments and we’re not going to do that in a rushed fashion," said Whooley.

"We have an opportunity to scale if and when the opportunity is right – the timing of that is dependent on a number of factors – but ultimately we won’t be rushing into anything until we’re sure the opportunity actually makes sense."

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