Biotechnology startup MiAlgae awarded £2.3m in private investment

MiAlgae, an Edinburgh-based biotechnology startup, has been awarded £2.3 million in funding through private investment. The startup has developed biotechnology to produce a sustainable source of omega-3 for animal and human consumption. 

MiAlgae Biotech StartupOmega-3 is currently produced by extracting the oil from billions of wild caught fish. The novel biotechnology uses a low-value feedstock from Scotch whisky distilleries to initiate the growth of microalgae which are rich in omega-3, avoiding demand for wild fish.

MiAlgae states its mission as being to ‘make better food in a smarter, more sustainable way’. It hopes to counter trends of overfishing by providing an alternative, sustainable source of omega-3 oil through circular means.

Having already invested in the startup, Equity Gap, Old College Capital, and Scottish Enterprise have all committed an additional total of £1 million. The Conduit Impact Fund, managed by Ascension, has invested £900,000 and SIS Ventures has awarded £350,000. Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Enterprise recently also put forward £850,000.

The investment will support the startup in its growth plan which includes the building of a commercial demonstrator facility near Stirling by 2023. This will allow MiAlgae to expand its commercial traction which is currently focused on the pet food sector.

The investment will also be put towards growing the team and the startup’s research capabilities. Ten new positions will be created, including Head of Engineering and Commercial Director.

Douglas Martin, Managing Director at MiAlgae, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to know that our investors see value in the biotechnology platform we’ve developed to tackle the production of omega-3 oils in a commercially viable way.

“Our process is championing the circular economy and the investment we have secured will be transformational in helping MiAlgae scale quickly both locally and abroad.

Hadley Diest, Investment Manager at the Conduit Impact Fund, said: “MiAlgae’s circular economy approach to producing algae rich in omega-3 solves key pain points on the supply and demand sides - to both dispose of Scotch byproducts sustainably and increase the supply of sustainably sourced, price-competitive, omega-3 into the broader market.

“Douglas and his team have worked tirelessly to bring this vision to life and the Conduit Impact Fund is proud to help support MiAlgae in their next stage of commercial growth.”

Microalgae-based biotechnology

MiAlgae’s biotechnology platform uses coproducts from the food and drink sector as feedstock to grow omega-3-rich microalgae. This is a more sustainable source of omega-3 than the wild fishing market and is also rich in antioxidants. The process also produces less CO2 emissions than traditional methods and helps prevent the loss of marine ecosystems.

Currently the co-products are sourced from the Scotch whisky industry. The startup creates recipes for each co-product taking into account its composition and any additional needs the organism has to survive. The co-product is then run through a series of pretreatment steps which make all the nutrients readily available.

Speaking to Resource, the company said: “As a circular economy company we effectively have two customers, the omega-3 algae customer and the co-product customer. That’s important because one of our products is effectively a super sustainable co-product management company. The less waste we have the better our product.”

MiAlgae returns the processed co-product as clean water and any other waste is sent to biogas producers who generate green electricity. The startup’s bioprocess is also fully run on green energy.

The company is confident in their role in the circular economy, MD Douglas Martin continued: “Our commercial demonstrator plant will help us improve food security globally, while our research department continues to drive the development of exciting, commercially viable biotech innovations.”

Looking ahead

While the startup is currently focused on the pet food sector, it has hopes to expand to the aquaculture sector in the near future. Aquaculture is the largest consumer of fish oil produced globally which is used in fish feed.

Its system is built in a modular fashion which enables it to decentralise production of the omega-3 rich algal material and roll out the technology quickly if needed.

Speaking to Resource, the startup said they hoped to co-locate algae production plants at distillery sites to reduce transport costs and emissions wherever possible, as well as building a central site for those who simply don’t have the space. They expect to start that next phase of growth in the first half of 2023. 

MiAlgae says plans are already underway to commercialise other high-value compounds and pigments through expansion of the platform. It says its system has scope to produce more than omega-3 rich algae.

The startup further told Resource: “Our plan is to use [the Research and Development team’s] expertise and our platform technology to enable the production of commercially exciting products that are otherwise produced in less sustainable ways. We have a number of R&D projects in the pipeline and will be looking to scale the most exciting and impactful over the next couple of years.”