Many plant-based meats and dairy substitutes use pea protein isolates as their primary protein source. This often involves a complex process of cleaning the protein to get rid of unwelcome flavors, as well as adding additional ingredients to cover up the taste. A Vienna-based company, called Arkeon Biotechnologies, may have figured out a way to bypass that complicated purifying process with the help of an ancient microbe.
Rather than using sugars from plants, Arkeon’s fermentation process uses Archaea — a microorganism endowed with the power to turn CO2 into the building blocks for a carbon-negative protein.
“The unique feature of the microorganism we’re using is that it’s producing all of the amino acids that we need in human nutrition,” says Gregor Tegl, Arkeon’s CEO. “And it’s also spitting them out of the cell just naturally, which is an insane thing to do.”
The company is mainly run by three scientists. Tegl, Simon Rittman, and Guenther Bochman. Rittman, a researcher at the University of Vienna, is the one who discovered that one strain of Archaea had the ability to spew out all 20 of the essential amino acids that make up the protein we need in our diets.
According to the scientists, the resulting protein could then be used in alternative protein products like plant-based meat or dairy. The amino acids that make up the protein can also be combined in various ways to create different ingredients and flavors. As such, the company says that the novel process could add a lot more flavors to the current alt-protein market.
Not only that, since it doesn’t require any sugars the fermentation process eliminates the environmental impacts of growing and harvesting crops. “Basically, it has the potential to bypass agriculture,” says Michael Mitsakos, principal at Evig Group, the startup accelerator that helped Arkeon kick off its project.
Mitsakos also notes that taking agriculture out of the equation also makes the production process cheaper. And since the microbe uses CO2 as part of the fermentation process, the resulting ingredients are carbon negative, which of course has a huge environment-friendly advantage compared to protein sourced from animal farming.
The company now plans to put its innovative fermentation process to work at a pilot facility, where it will start producing ingredients on a larger scale. Also, part of the plan is to work together with breweries to use the CO2 captured during the brewing process, most of which is typically wasted.