Carbon dioxide (CO2), the greatest contributor to climate change, has a bad name in environmental circles but the chemical compound may be about to take on a whole new reputation – at least where poultry and fish nutrition are concerned.

This changing role is due to the development of a new process that converts CO2 from industrial emissions into high value proteins. The technology has been created by U.K. biotechnology company Deep Branch, and produces a single cell protein, called Proton, which is now the focus of a 10 partner development consortium called REACT-FIRST. The consortium aims to scale up industrial production of Proton specifically to address the U.K.’s shortage of protein for use in animal feed and has recently been granted government funding.

A number of companies around the world are already turning CO2 into protein for a variety of uses, however, according to Deep Branch Chief Executive Officer Peter Row, REACT FIRST has been established solely to address the problem of U.K. feed producers having to import protein from abroad, making them dependent on complicated and fragile supply chains.

Deep Branch works with mobile units that can capture CO2 from industrial emitters. CO2 and hydrogen are then used as carbon and energy sources in a fermentation process which runs continuously to provide greater productivity than traditional batch processes. The end result is a sustainable animal feed ingredient that generates up to 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional ingredients.

Row believes that the initiative has “transformative” potential, and that the formation of the industry and academia consortium will help to make Proton a commercial reality.

Waste not, want not

Nottingham University (NTU)’s Poultry Research Unit experts are among the consortium members and they will benchmark Proton’s nutritional quality as a feed ingredient, advising on processes to prepare it for inclusion in feed, and conducting nutrition trials.

Once trials are complete, the university will work with consortium companies to produce key performance indicators for an improved protein ingredients profile based on commercial feed matrix data, which will be used to develop a registration report.

NTU’s Associate Professor of Sustainable Food Production Dr Emily Burton, has noted that, while the poultry industry already has much to be proud of in terms of low carbon emissions, this initiative could catapult the sector into a new league. Not only would REACT FIRST provide the industry with access to a sustainable protein source, it would also help to foster stability, as feed represents about half of the production costs in today’s poultry production.

Fellow partner AB Agri Strategy Director Valerie Schuster, said that the new scalable circular protein offered the opportunity to help feed manufacturers and farmers and improve animal nutrition and wellbeing via a high quality ingredient that is consistent and can easily be traced back to its origin.

And what will the origin be? An electricity generation plant owned by energy company Drax Group, which aims to be carbon negative by the end of the decade.