Most living organisms are capable of transforming carbon, nitrate and minerals of organic or inorganic origin into new cell mass. Carbon is the ”skeleton” in the newly formed cells. It also delivers energy for the multiple biosynthetic processes in the organism. Via amino acids nitrogen – often as ammonia (NH3) – is built into the proteins of the organism, and the biomass contains up to 70% protein.
The so-called methylotrophs are capable of living and growing on simple substrates. In contrast to other organisms – that all require sugar as the primary source of carbon – they are capable of growing on single-carbon (C1) compounds [e.g. methane (CH4) or methanol (CH3OH)] or multi-carbon compounds lacking carbon bonds (e.g. dimethyl ether or dimethylamine). Some methylotrophs can degrade the greenhouse gas methane and are referred to as methanotrophs. Most known methanotrophs are bacteria that strictly require methane for growth.
UniProtein® is manufactured by adding natural gas (methane) to a culture of methanotrophs along with ammonia or nitrates and a range of simple minerals. It is an aerobic process, and the oxygen transforms part of the carbon into carbon dioxide through respiration, a process that creates a large energy surplus used by the organism for growth.
The main requirements for the process design are clear: A large container is needed – the fermentor – where the bacteria are kept. To this container technically pure oxygen and gas or methanol are fed. Another liquid feed contains the nitrogen source and minerals.
From the container, newly formed biomass is continuously harvested together with the aqueous solution containing the remains of the substrates. The biomass is then separated in a centrifuge, and the liquid returns to the fermentor.