The Drax Group announced June 17 that it is working with biotech start-up Deep Branch Biotechnology to explore the feasibility of using the carbon dioxide emissions from a power station to make proteins for sustainable animal feed products.
Deep Branch Biotechnology, a leading tech start-up based at Nottingham University in the U.K., will place a pilot plant within Drax’s Carbon Capture Usage & Storage (CCUS) Incubation Area at its power station in North Yorkshire, U.K.
The pilot plant will extract flue gases from the power station’s renewable electricity generation to feed to microbes, which can make single-cell proteins for use in fish food and other sustainable animal feeds, the companies said.
Drax Group chief executive officer Will Gardiner said, “By giving partners like Deep Branch Biotechnology access to our CCUS Incubation Area, we can test emerging technologies and explore their potential in delivering for both the climate and the economy.
“We want to create a cleaner environment for future generations whilst generating new jobs and export opportunities for British businesses. Technologies like this could enable some of our more difficult to decarbonize sectors, like agriculture, to make positive changes to address the climate crisis,” Gardiner added.
Drax Power Station is the biggest renewable electricity generator in the U.K. and the largest decarbonization project in Europe, having converted two-thirds of the plant to use sustainable biomass instead of coal, the announcement said.
Deep Branch Biotechnology CEO Peter Rowe explained that the method they have developed for producing proteins from carbon dioxide relies on an edible microbe that consumes carbon dioxide.
When fed carbon dioxide, the microbes grow and reproduce, enabling them to be continually harvested for protein while maintaining a growing culture, Rowe said. Under optimal conditions, up to 70% of the material produced is protein.
The benefits of this process over other carbon capture technologies is that the carbon dioxide does not need to be separated from the power station’s flue gases before being fed to the microbes.
Rowe said, “The technology we’ve developed is an exciting solution. We can convert up to 60-70% of carbon dioxide into protein, helping to both minimize the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere during power generation and other industrial processes while producing protein for animal feeds, which will help reduce the impact of agricultural sectors on the environment as well.”
Drax and Deep Branch noted that concerns about overfishing have helped the aquaculture (farmed fish) industry boom, yet this industry uses more than 15% of ocean-caught fish for feed in the form of fish meal.
The new proteins created using the Deep Branch biotechnology could help reduce the quantities of fish removed from the oceans, the companies said, which not only minimizes the impact on ecosystems but decreases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The Deep Branch pilot will get underway in the autumn, when a demonstration plant will be installed within the Drax CCUS Incubation Area.
It aims to capture enough carbon dioxide to produce 100 kg of protein for use in creating feedstocks for fish and livestock, according to the announcement. The protein generated from the project will be used in a trial project with a major feed producer.
If successful, Deep Branch Biotechnology plans to build a larger production facility by 2020 so it can produce several metric tons of protein per year.