With the help of $8.4m in seed funding, announced today, Brevel is constructing in Israel a commercial pilot factory to scale production of its microalgae-based protein made with proprietary technology that combines sugar-based fermentation with a high concentration of light to create an affordable, nutritional and multi-functional protein that could be in products on shelf as early as the end of this year, CEO Yonatan Golan told FoodNavigator-USA.
Golan, who founded Brevel with his brothers Matan and Ido, explained that by joining these two production technologies together, the company is able to overcome many of the challenges and shortcomings that have held back microalgae while simultaneously addressing drawbacks of leading plant-based protein sources.
A more efficient microalgae production method
“Today, microalgae are produced either by photosynthesis in outdoor (or indoor) ponds or closed reactors, which are very labor intensive, suffer from contaminations and produce at low yields and high costs,” or in “fermentation tanks where sugar is added to the process and then the microalgae grow at significantly lower costs and higher yields,” but because this takes place in the dark “many of the ingredients, functionalities and benefits of microalgae are lost in the process,” Golan said.
Brevel, on the other hand, takes the best of each method by combining sugar-based fermentation and light in a single process to produce affordable microalgae in very high yields which are rich with all the functionalities, ingredients and nutrients that are only produced in the presence of light, Golan added.
“Having light alongside sugar-based fermentation is a game-changer, which provides us with a much better positioning compared to other microalgae companies since most of the valuable fractions are only produced in the presence of light,” he said, noting that Brevel’s protein has a full amino acid profile and a very high digestibility score.
The unique process also allows Brevel to produce the microalgae for roughly 90% less the cost of other microalgae production processes.
“In terms of sustainability,” Golan added, “microalgae are by far the most sustainable source of protein on this planet. Compared to soy, which is the leading plant-based protein today, microalgae are 99.95% more efficient in terms of land, 67% more efficient in [greenhouse gas] emissions and 55% more efficient in water usage.”
Going up against soy and pea
Brevel’s unique approach to producing microalgae-based protein also give it a leg up on more traditional plant-based proteins, including go-to soy and pea, he claimed.
Golan explained Brevel’s protein has a “a very mild flavor and color, which makes it very suitable for food applications where flavor masking is not an option,” such as in plant-based dairy and egg alternatives.
“These food applications don’t have suitable solutions today at affordable costs,” because the leading protein sources – soy and pea – have very strong flavors, are allergenic and suffer from negative market perception, he said.
“For our first segment of partners, we actually try to be as inert as possible – increase the nutritional profile of products without changing taste color, texture or cost for the end consumer,” which led one piloting partner to describe it as a “ghost protein” because “it increases the protein content without you noticing it is there,” Golan said.
However, “having an excellent product in terms of flavor, color and functionality,” isn’t enough to usurp pea and soy, Golan acknowledged.
“If we cannot provide it at cost levels of the current leading protein sources, we will remain a niche protein source and won’t be able to address the global challenges of sustainable nutrition,” he explained.
“The path to cost parity goes through being able to extract and valorize each of the different fractions of the microalgae independently,” he noted, adding, “We already have developments with the oil fraction and the pigments and are working on additional ingredients which can be produced.”
Brevel’s initial protein product is available as a dry powder, which Golan says can be added directly to formulations either as a powder or after additional processing, such as homogenization or secondary fermentation to increase its solubility, extract additional flavors or other attributes depending on a customers' needs and preferences.
Building out a complete portfolio
Once the pilot facility is up and running and commercial products are on shelf, Golan added that Brevel will expand its offerings to including more functional benefits.
“In the second stage, we will be looking to provide functionalities such as gelation, texturing, emulsification and more, which are mostly suitable for fish and seafood alternatives,” he explained.
The seed funding will also allow Brevel to explore added value for its partners and improve its products, he added.
“We are now increasing our capabilities on the food technology side with more advanced equipment, food processing capabilities, advanced analytical tools and a food engineering team,” he said.
This is possible thanks in part to the funding but also the investors, many of whom are focused on food and alternative proteins and who “have great connections to the market and are an amazing resource for opening doors and assisting in strategic positioning,” Golan said.
The seed fund investors include FoodHack, Good Startup VC, Tet Ventures and Nevateam Ventures, among others in the food tech industry. Also contributing to the round are Israel’s Innovation Authority and the EU’s Horizon2020 program.