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Producing essential amino acids from waste gases

Article-Producing essential amino acids from waste gases

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Austrian startup Arkeon uses archaea – a group of micro-organisms similar to but distinct from bacteria – to produce essential amino acids via a proprietary, patent-pending gas fermentation process, producing sustainable ingredients.

Archaea - a group of micro-organisms similar to but distinct from bacteria – are central to Arkeon’s revolutionary approach to producing sustainable ingredients. Colonies of archaea are fed industrial waste gases, and amino acids are produced through a proprietary patent-pending gas fermentation process.

“These microbes feed on carbon dioxide, along with hydrogen,” explains Arkeon co-founder Michael Mitsakos. “From these feedstocks, the archaea excrete amino acids through a membrane, which end up in a salty solution. We are then able to separate the amino acids from the salts.”

Producing amino acids essential to human health

Through this ground-breaking process, Arkeon is able to produce the 20 amino acids essential to human health – essentially from industrial waste gases. The potential benefits of this are significant, from reducing the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere to creating local ingredient supply chains.

For this innovation, Arkeon received the Most Innovative Plant-Based or Alternative Ingredient award at the Fi Europe Start-up Innovation Challenge. “This award has given us recognition and visibility,” says Mitsakos. “It is important that people in the food industry, as well as consumers, are aware that solutions to tackling the climate crisis are being worked on.”

Mitsakos also believes that while elements of the start-up’s technology are complex, the story behind the company is easy to grasp. “This award can help to mainstream our message,” he says. “We are taking science and technology out of the lab and into the world, and I think this is very important.”

From the lab to the market

From the beginning, the founders of Arkeon wanted to positively impact the world. Mitsakos and his colleagues focused on the food industry, in part because they recognised the huge carbon footprint that the sector has.

“If you look at how food ingredients are made, they tend to be tied to land, plants, and animals,” he says. “There are always these three components. We wanted to think outside the box, and we landed on a process of producing amino acids from microbes. This means that you can bypass agriculture, and instead of using agricultural inputs, use waste gases.”

Arkeon identified pioneering researchers and scientists to work with to turn this concept into a reality. The aim was to take their findings out of academia and into the real world, where they can make a difference.

Commercial awareness and scientific know-how

Mitsakos sees two sides to the business. The first addresses the challenges facing CO2-emitting industries, such as steel and cement. By installing their technology at the source of pollution, Arkeon’s proposition turns CO2 emissions from a problem into a potential new revenue stream. Heavy industry is incentivised to become part of the solution to creating a more sustainable and circular future.

“On the other side, we are a B2B ingredient provider,” says Mitsakos. “The amino acids we produce are ideal for the food and beverage sector, as well for personal care and any other industries that use amino acids. We can produce all 20 amino acids essential to human health.”

The start-up is currently looking for CO2-emitting companies interested in partnering up, as well as scaling up the technology. A facility in Vienna is operational and producing amino acids at pilot scale.

“Producing at commercial scale will take time and investment,” says Mitsakos. “We need partners that believe in what we are doing, and these are the discussions we are currently having.”

There is also growing interest from the food sector, in part because most amino acids are currently procured from unsustainable sources. There is a recognised need for greater supply chain transparency and security, and a general acceptance that the food sector must become more sustainable at every step.

“Over the next two years, we will be building a demo facility, which will basically be a fully-equipped small-scale plant that is capable to produce amino acids for food and beverage applications,” says Mitsakos. “This will help to further show what science and technology can achieve. I’m proud that we have created a company that is both commercially and scientifically minded. This is a powerful combination.”