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24th April 2023  Content supplied by: Brevel

Plugging into the Proteins of the Future

At newprotein we recently had the privilege of interviewing Brevel's CEO and Co-founder, Yonatan Golan to discover more about Brevel's innovative protein from non-GMO microalgae.  Yonatan has some well-reasoned insights into the challenges of transforming the food supply chain and sees parallels with the transformation occurring in the motoring industry.

Firstly Yonatan gave us some background information on Brevel

"At Brevel, we produce protein, from microalgae, for the food industry. We focussed on microalgae because it is the most sustainable protein source, and we are able to produce a protein that is tasty and also affordable for the food industry. Being able to drive the price down to cost parity with pea and even soy, makes it relevant at scale for the mainstream food industry, not only for niche, high-end applications like snacks and cookies, and those sort of applications, but also for the mainstream plant-based industry".

But what about the challenges around flavour and cost-in-use?

"We have developed technology that combines fermentation and light in a single process. This results in very high yields and low costs of the biomass using fermentation, and as the microalgae grow in the presence of light, so all of the valuable ingredients, all of the functionalities, and all of the nutritional profile characteristics are produced. This enables us not only to produce protein very efficiently but also to produce a variety of other light-dependent ingredients in the biomass, to add value and commercialize all of the different fractions of the biomass at cost levels the food industry can work with".

"There are great companies out there, some of which you have featured on NewProtein, excellent companies that are able to do genetic shifting of the microalgae strains to get to microalgae that are yellow, even whitish, and have a pretty nice flavour profile. However, they use the biomass, not the extracted protein, so it limits the functionality that it can achieve. And also, still not at cost levels relevant to the mainstream. So they have to aim for high-end products. But because of our different approach, we're able, really, for the first time to mimic the industrial process, I would say, of soy protein. Basically, soy protein is cheap because it's only one of the co-products produced from the soybean. You have the oil, the fibers, the gluten, and then you also have protein as a co-product, and this is why it can be priced at low prices, and this is exactly what we're able to do with microalgae."

"And by the way, this is a challenge not only for microalgae but for the whole alternative protein space, from microorganisms, from mycelium, or from fungi or from bacteria. If you cannot maximize the profitability from the biomass, you won't achieve a food ingredient price point that works for food and beverage manufacturers."

Yonatan considers that Brevel’s microalgae protein is better than soy due to its very mild and neutral flavour which is actually quite pleasant, unlike the strong beany flavour associated with many other plant-based ingredients. This makes it ideally suited for plant-based eggs and cheeses where flavour is the main challenge.

Brevels' new product is a complete protein with high digestibility.  We asked Yonatan his thoughts on hitting the right price for the market.

"So we don't have to be at the price levels of pea and soy. We can be at the price levels of chickpea even, or whey protein and still be relevant to the market. But to really get to significant shares of the market and really drive a significant impact in terms of environmental impact, we have to be able to operate at cost levels, a few dollars per kilogram, to really be relevant for the mass market."

Having recently partnered with Yotvata to scale up production, we were interested to know more about the reasons for the partnership and how the project is progressing.

"At Brevel, we now have a fully operational pilot facility, on which we produce several kilograms per day, sending samples to potential customers and collaborating with them to develop products. We're now in the process of building our own demo factory. It's a 1,700 square meter facility, which is ours; this is not a joint venture. This will be already at a commercial scale, and we will be able to produce and sell commercial volumes from that facility by the end of this year."

"However, the majority of manufacturing will be done through joint ventures. Our strength is in developing technology, developing processes, formulating with our ingredients, and providing value solutions for our customers. We're not the best at day-to-day manufacturing, large-scale factories. There are other partners out there that are much better than us, have much better logistics and infrastructure, they operate factories that can produce hundreds of thousands and millions of tons of protein that the food industry really needs. We want to continue providing value through technology development and process development. And so, our model of scaling is through such joint ventures with large partners in different locations in the world. Yotvata is a kibbutz in Israel, located in the Negev dessert. It is a cooperative community, and its main source of income is Yotvata Dairy. In partnering with us, they can leverage their food processing capabilities and focus on finding sustainable solutions to feed the ever-growing world population."

"Yotvata is one of the more established, more successful kibbutzes in Israel. They've recently invested in Brevel, because they wanted this opportunity to have a joint venture with us to establish a factory, and we're very excited to do this with them. We have signed an MOU to go forward and do this joint venture. We have already started the process of locating land and developing the ground that is needed for the facility. I think the biggest advantage with them is that we have mutual trust, which is essential in business, in any case."

"The facility that will be built with Yotvata will be the first large-scale commercial facility of its kind, and we have to make it work. And so having a partner which we are very happy to work with, and that there's mutual trust, is really essential. Because it is a JV, they are providing the capital and will be responsible for the operations, but we will be really immersed and involved in it because we have to make it work."

Of course, understanding the unique features and benefits of Brevels protein is key, and as such, Brevel is keen to position itself as a solution provider for plant-based applications.

Yonatan explained, "We're sending samples to our potential customers, who are developing applications using our protein. We also have in-house food engineers that we're working with, and also a food application lab in-house. Because what we see is that some of our customers are able to innovate and use our protein in different ways, whereas others need our ingredient knowledge and expertise. Our in-product testing has enabled us to formulate and understand exactly how to use our protein, in what applications it works best, what not to do with it, and so on, so we can really provide a full solution to develop plant-based meat, plant-based cheese, plant-based yogurt, plant-based meat applications, and others, using our protein as a nutritional source and as a functional source."

Brevel won the most innovative plant-based or alternative ingredient at the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge. Yonatan gave us his thoughts on what made Brevel stand out.

"The segment we're initially targeting in the food industry is the dairy alternative segment. Milk, cheese, yogurt, these kinds of applications, mostly because they have a very immediate pain, in that they do not have enough protein, they do not have enough nutritional value in their product. There are also big challenges for alternative protein in terms of flavour, and cost. And I think our approach is very upstream, resolving these challenges by developing a unique technology platform rather than downstream. There are companies that do downstream of protein, processing it in a different way to try to increase yield or to reduce flavour off notes, for example. And there are companies that do formulations/consumer applications. There aren't that many companies that go really high upstream to solve it from the source. It's like trying to invent a new crop feed, the way you sow and harvest soy, almost."

"We developed the platform for growing the microalgae, which then solves many of these challenges down the road. And this actually puts us in a position that through the technological platform, we can solve price, we can solve flavour, we can solve yields. And by the way, we also, because we design and build our own technology, we also solve a lot of the capex, a lot of the capital challenges in this field. Because we design and build our own fermenters with light, we do not have to buy them from the existing off-the-shelf engineering companies, but really we do everything in-house out of necessity. The technology doesn't exist in the market, so we had to develop it for ourselves."

"And this puts us in a position to really solve all of these challenges down the road. I think that's part of what convinced the judges of the competition to award us. But also the companies we speak with, actually, almost all of the sales today, or all of the partnerships, are inbound. The companies are reaching out to us actively looking for solutions to increase their product's nutritional impact."

We asked Yonatan to tell us how Brevel is managing to balance the interest from the marketplace versus the challenges of scaling up production.

"We're limiting the companies that we're moving forward with and focussing on dairy plant-based applications. We also have interest from plant-based meat manufacturers, also by the way from cultured meat companies that want to do hybrid products and are looking for other sources besides soy and pea to complement their cultured meat products. Currently, we're delaying them to a later date, probably in 2024, when we'll start dealing with these applications as well. We're moving forward with the companies that also we see as innovative, some of whom are large multinational, traditional dairy companies."

With the environmental impact of dairy farming very much under scrutiny, Brevel's experience is that traditional dairy cheese manufacturers are very innovative.

With traditional protein sources and methods of production being questioned, we asked Yonatan to share his thoughts on the changing face of protein production.

"I think an interesting topic that I've been playing around with, and what I think could be an interesting message, is the parallels of the alternative protein space to the automotive industry."

"And the parallel is not only in terms of technology but also in terms of the challenges. Basically, microorganism-based proteins can be likened to electric cars. Plant-based is important, and there are amazing companies making improvements in soy and pea, chickpea, mung beans, and so on, which are really important. As a vegan, I'm really excited about all of these improvements and businesses. However, once microorganisms are up and running, it will revolutionise protein production."

"There are companies with expertise in mycelium and bacteria and yeast and microalgae. Once these are up and running, the future is microorganisms, in the same way as the future is electric cars."

"Eventually, microorganism fermentation will be more sustainable by far. And microalgae will be far more sustainable than any plant-based source. The range of functionalities and applications will be wider, and it will be much more affordable, similar again to EVs. But the challenges are also different. The challenges of EVs... I mean, it's one thing to do a Tesla. It's a completely different thing to electrify all of the different gas stations in the world."

Making the technology affordable for the average consumer.

"What we will see in the next decade is alternative protein ingredient producers really going into this phase of re-establishing the supply chain and all of the infrastructure that is needed, which is the parallel of electrifying gas stations, to really be able to supply the millions of tons that are needed in the food industry."

"And so, for us, it's really exciting. It's really building this Tesla, which is what we have now. And now, our challenge is building the gigafactories and electrifying the gas stations, and bringing this to scale and to affordability."

It is something Yonatan has clearly given a lot of thought to. Certainly, if Brevel can bring to market a complete protein at scale and at a price point the market can stand, then it really will revolutionise protein production. 

Be part of the change. Reach out to Brevel for more details here or use the green button below.



Date Published: 24th April 2023

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