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Reducing global pollution levels and keeping the world’s growing population fed are two seemingly unrelated challenges, but Nottingham-based Deep Branch Biotech has found a way to tackle both at the same time.
The company turns carbon dioxide emissions into protein, sold to the animal feed industry. Like many tech companies, they talk about their hardware and software, however, their definitions for these terms are slightly different. Their “software” is a specialised proprietary bacterium that “eats” carbon dioxide, converting it into protein.
As the bacteria eat, they divide, creating more and more protein rich cells that are dried to go into animal feed. Unlike most software, they’re not encoded by C++, Java or Python, but by DNA.
After pitching at the Tech Nation Rising Stars semi-final, Deep Branch Biotech’s three co-founders are now embarking on an 18-month Innovate UK project while looking to raise a seed round.
We spoke to cofounder Rob Mansfield when the company was exhibiting at the Rising Stars Grand Final to find out more.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Rob Mansfield: We solve two major problems. One is global warming, essentially the question of how we can reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid environmental catastrophe. Then there’s the question of how we will feed ten billion people by 2050? We can’t feed the animals we eat in a sustainable manner now, so with a third more people on earth, drastic changes are required.
We see aquaculture (the farming of fish) as being a key industry for the future. Unlike terrestrial livestock farming, there are no requirements for excessive fresh water or land that can be used for crops. The one big issue, however, is fishmeal. To feed fish in aquaculture farms, fishmeal is generated from ocean-caught fish.
The requirement for sustainable feed protein is being driven in large part by the aquaculture industry, which is why they’re our target market. Currently, their main feed protein is fishmeal which is generation from ocean-caught fish. The number of fish in the sea is finite and declining, so something has to change. Luckily for us, the size of the protein feed market is enormous, so there’s plenty of scope for moving into it without making a dent. You can be a disruptive technology without necessarily having to build a market for yourself.
Can you describe your hardware?
To generate our protein, we use bioreactors. For our demo at Tech Nation Rising Stars we bought a long a scaled-down version to illustrate our process. These bioreactors are designed for tight control of process parameters, just like baking a cake we need to ensure that we have just the right combination of ingredients, but we monitor them in real time. Currently we use semi-bespoke reactors built by engineering firms to our specifications, but as we scale-up we’ll be working closely with strategic partners to build large-scale reactors build to meet our needs.
What are the different sources of carbon dioxide?
You name it, something produces it. To say “chimneys” wouldn’t be far from the truth – big corporates in the energy industry burning coal or biomass for electricity. A big one we’re interested in at the moment is the cement and lime industry – together they produce about 7% of global CO2 emissions.
Although our process can’t be scaled down to remove the CO2 from a car exhaust, our big selling point is our scalability. As a result, beyond energy and materials production, we’ve garnered a lot of interest from lots of industries with big carbon footprints. Inter latter of which has been really receptive to the tech.
What’s your revenue model?
As you can imagine, it’s a double-sided business. We have carbon capture on one side and then protein production on the other. Our revenue model for feed production is quite simple – we make protein to sell it. We’ll most likely sell in a B2B fashion to a feed mill, rather than direct to consumer.
On the carbon capture front, we will partner with industrial emitters, helping them re-imagine their CO2 as a valuable co-product rather than a taxable waste stream.
We’ll take our design know-how and a mobile production unit on-site to demonstrate the technology’s power and then work together to bring the tech to scale.
Have you had any investment?
Yes – we closed our first investment round this quarter. We’ve taken our first investment from BioCity Group, a life science incubator and business collective. In addition, we’ve got an Innovate UK project for the next 18 months and then have a Seed round mashed in the middle of that. It’s all about demonstrating repeatedly and unequivocally that the process works, getting in place the most appropriate partners to help us scale.
We have a number of interested partners, so it’s a pleasant problem being able to pick and choose who you work with going forward. We need to ensure that any investment works for us on both a technology level, and that of being able to tell the story we want to as a company while bringing in people who fit our vision best.
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