Innovative startups create sustainable food solutions from the sea
The sustainable food solutions of the future should be found in the sea, according to two innovative startups, which are both taking part in an entrepreneurial program at Aarhus University. One of them cultivates microalgae biomass for the food industry, while the other creates food packaging material based on fish waste.
Aarhus University has welcomed seven new startups in the entrepreneurial program EIT Food Seedbed. The program supports startup companies with deep tech ideas that have the potential to develop transformative solutions for the food sector.
Participants receive personalized business coaching, industry connections and funding to test their innovative ideas directly with potential customers and end-users.
- The Seedbed program is designed for entrepreneurs developing early stage products or services that utilise innovative agri-food technologies set to make a big impact on any part of the food sector, including the way we produce, deliver, consume, recycle and value our food. It can be within the area of sustainable packaging, biotechnology, robotics and automation, smart farming, ag-tech or big data, says Stella Spanou, who is responsible for the EIT Food Seedbed Hub at Aarhus University.
Two of this year’s participants work to create sustainable food solutions from the sea.
The Finnish company Algonomi cultivates microalgae biomass that can be used for several purposes, including in the food industry, while the British company MarinaTex creates biodegradable films for different applications, including food packaging and polybags, based on red algae and fish waste.
Microalgae to replace food ingredients
As opposed to the big plants of macroalgae growing in the sea, microalgae are small cells - actually one of the earliest organisms in the planet.
They are interesting, because they have a number of useful properties, including fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, antioxidants and pigments.
Roy Nyberg, CEO of Algonomi, explains:
- We are able to cultivate microalgae in a bioreactor, and the result is a biomass similar to defrosted spinach. We can turn it into a powder by using a centrifuge. We can extract the nutrients and use them for different purposes, including for food ingredients, and one unique part of our process is the capture and re-use of CO2, enabling carbon neutral food ingredients.
There are many different strains of microalgae, and only a handful are approved for food purposes in the EU - typically, a two-year long process. Currently, there are many applications related to protein, and therefore Algonomi is focusing on other ingredient products, such as fatty acids, vitamins and pigments.
- In infant formula, you are obliged by law to add certain fatty acids. Today, you use fish oil for this purpose, but you could also produce the fatty acids with algae. This is therefore one of the markets that we are targeting, but our products are increasingly relevant with the transition to a more plant-food system, Roy Nyberg says.
With the funding that Algonomi has received by taking part in the EIT Food Seedbed, they have been able to go to trade fairs, meet relevant customers and learn about their interests and needs.
- Out of 70 companies, 50 were interested in trying our samples, so this has been a positive experience. In addition to this, we have received help to connect to the food industry and industry experts by the Seedbed Hub at Aarhus University and participated in the many different webinars that EIT Food has to offer, for instance in relation to food technology, upscaling and business development, Roy Nyberg stresses.
Algonomi is currently in the process of securing funding that will allow them to initiate the production.
Food packaging based on fish waste
MarinaTex is also working to create sustainable solutions for the food industry based on resources from the sea that currently tend to go to waste.
MarinaTex is not only the name of the company, but also its product: a biodegradable, transparent film well suited for packaging - and with fish processing waste and agar from red algae as the main components.
Lucy Hughes, who is behind MarinaTex, explains:
- When you feel the fish skins and scales, they are both flexible and strong. This is due to the strength-enabling proteins that are locked up in them. We blend these proteins with other materials to create a flexible film material that can be used in packaging. In this way, MarinaTex wants to move away from fabricated polymers and use polymers that nature already has the tools to break down.
MarinaTex was created as a final year university project, and Lucy Hughes was looking for support to move forward with the business, when she joined the EIT Food Seedbed program at Aarhus University.
- I was mentored by a previous seedbed alumna, who highly recommended the program and I got to see an example of how it had helped them. It was great to take part in a program that is tailored around bringing business out of academia, as the workshops and expertise could be tailored to these challenges, she says:
- Having to contact so many different types of people in the value chain was challenging, but a required exercise to gain a large amount of information about product market fit. I have learnt that added value is vital for a new product to be adopted.
MarinaTex is also in the process of raising funding, and expect the product to be on the market in 3-5 years, if successful.
EIT Food Seedbed
About EIT Food: The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is an independent body under the auspices of the EU with the purpose of boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe. EIT is an umbrella body for a range of consortia working with innovation and entrepreneurship in various areas, such as climate, raw materials and food.
EIT Food Seedbed Hub, Department of Food Science, Aarhus University:
Stella Spanou, firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile: +4593508393