Today Finnish biotech startup Enifer was approved for a recycling and reuse investment grant of more than €12 million to build its first commercial-scale PEKILO® mycoprotein ingredient factory.
I spoke to Simo Ellilä, CEO and co-founder of Enifer, to find out more.
The commercial-scale factory will produce Enifer's unique foodtech PEKILO® mycoprotein ingredients, which are made using fungal fermentation.
The PEKILO® fermentation process has a long legacy – Finnish forest industry engineers originally developed it in the 1970s.
As the world’s first commercial mycoprotein production process from 1975 to 1991, it converted forest industry by-products into sustainable feed protein for the domestic market.
Enifer has taken the original process further and developed a food-grade ingredient based on the original PEKILO® technology. The product is a protein- and fibre-rich powder with a neutral taste and colour that can be used similarly to plant-based proteins in today's food industry.
The use of by-product streams as raw material not only makes its product more sustainable but also lowers the production costs.
For example, it's currently partnering with dairy company Valio to use sidestream lactose permeates leftover from its manufacturing as an ingredient.
Further, while most mycelium companies focus on producing a meaty-like substance, the company’s DNA is in powder form. This provides product differentiation in a niche and great cost and process efficiency.
A mammoth leap for scalability
The new facility will have a production capacity of 3 million kilograms a year of sustainable, locally sourced protein – roughly equivalent to the protein content of meat from 30,000 cows but with at least 20 times lower carbon emissions and considerably lower water and land use.
The company currently operates a pipeline at its own facility that produces about five kilos a day. It also regularly runs campaigns at third-party sites when needing large samples.
Ellilä describes the new plant as “a huge jump in scale.”
“Making a dry mycoprotein ingredient at this scale has never been done before.“
The factory is currently projected to cost €30M to build and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025, with production ramp-up occurring in 2026.
Waiting for regulatory progress
One of the biggest challenges in foodtech is waiting for commercial approval under the EU’s novel food regulations which establishes the safety of new products wanting to enter the market.
While PEKILO® is approved for use in feeding livestock and pets, the company, like others in the space, is waiting for mycelium's approval in human consumption in the EU. Timelines for this are uncertain.
The EU has the strictest novel food regulations, leaving many companies looking to the US and Asia for commercialisation.
But the Enifer team is hopeful and the need plant is designed to meet food-grade specifications.
"So once we achieve novel food approval, then we will be able to produce those large volumes at a very commercially viable level.
There have been several signals from the EU that they're working on it. They're aware of the frustration that people have, but no one knows when approval will be granted.”
From aquafeed to petfood to our dinner plates
Enifer currently has ongoing partnerships with big global companies in the feed and food industries, such as Skretting, the global aquafeed division of Nutreco, and Purina for pet food.
“When we started the company, our focus was heavily on agriculture. And that's where we've done the most testing to date. The results have been remarkable, especially in salmon and most recently, in shrimp. They just grow better.
Even though the initial focus was very much about bringing a new protein source and replacing things like soy, or fish meal, we see that it has health-promoting benefits as well.”
Ellilä suggests that “the UK could be a very impactful test market for pet food containing PEKILO® because people are so familiar with mycroprotein (like Quorn) already.
In the future, the company also wants to build joint venture plants and even eventually license its production technology.
“What’s great is that our technology is, first and foremost, a bio-refining tool. We approach things by looking at what side streams are available. What can be produced from paper and biofuel plants?
Behind the scenes, we're working on many cases where someone else could use our tech.
We're working on several cases in parallel. And we know that many of them will succeed eventually.”
And with a nod to the company’s origin story, Ellilä revealed that they'Re in contact with “many guys in the 70s worked on designing and building the first PEKILO® products.
“They’re super excited to learn about what we’re doing, with a number of them helping us pro bono.”
Enifer raised €11 million in series A funding in spring 2023. Today’s funding comes from the European Union NextGenerationEU recovery instrument.
Lead image via Enifer.