Oleg Zabluda's blog
Friday, November 25, 2016
Food made from natural gas will soon feed farm animals – and us
Food made from natural gas will soon feed farm animals – and us
A biotechnology company called Calysta, based in Menlo Park, California, is set to announce the first ever large-scale factory that uses microbes to turn natural gas – methane – into a high-protein food for the animals we eat. The factory, which will be built in the US in collaboration with food-giant Cargill, will produce 200,000 tonnes of feed a year.

The methane-made food has already been approved in the European Union for feeding to farmed fish and livestock such as pigs. Calysta is seeking approval in the US, too – and not just for farm animals. “We want to take it all the way to cats and dogs, and potentially even humans,” says the head of Calysta, Alan Shaw.

In September, Calysta opened a small facility in Teesside in the UK to produce up to 100 tonnes a year of feed for farmed fish. Unibio, a rival biotech company based in London, opened a similar-sized facility in Denmark in October. Both companies want to rapidly scale up production.
“We have been in touch with SpaceX,” says Shaw.
These methane-munching methanotrophs essentially “burn” methane (CH4) to get energy, producing CO2 and water as waste products. Some of this energy is then used to combine other methane molecules to make more-complex carbon molecules – food, in other words.

This ability first evolved billions of years ago – it likely predates photosynthesis – and today methanotrophs can be found wherever there’s methane to feast on, from cold seeps on the sea floor to ponds and marshes.
Calysta is using a bacterium called Methylococcus capsulatus. The bacteria are grown in vats, fed methane, and are then dried and turned into pellets.

The idea was first explored in the 1980s by Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, which in the 2000s built a plant capable of producing 10,000 tonnes of feed a year. But at the time, gas prices were high and the product had not been approved in the EU. The plant was closed, and the technology was sold to Calysta.

With approval now in place and natural gas prices lower, Shaw is betting that the technology is ready for the big time – and rival company Unibio thinks so, too.


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