Aker BioMarine commissions GEA to design the world’s first krill protein pilot plant

Aker BioMarine is the only krill supplier that controls the entire supply chain from krill harvesting in Antarctic waters to the logistics center in Montevideo to the krill oil production facility in Houston, US. Antarctic krill fishing is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world (Photo credit: Aker BioMarine)

GEA will be designing and delivering the world’s first pilot plant for hydrolysing krill protein on behalf of Aker BioMarine. The client is a biotechnology company based in Norway that fishes for Antarctic krill – tiny shrimp-like crustaceans – and uses them to develop ingredients for functional foods, aquaculture and animal feed. Slated to come online in late 2022, the new pilot plant will produce a highly concentrated protein isolate destined for food and beverages. The partners signed the engineering, procurement and construction contract valued in the double-digit, million-euro range in July 2021.

Sustainable marine biotechnology

“With GEA’s expertise in engineering plants for food ingredients, we look forward to starting operations in a highly innovative facility that will also house our research and innovation center,” said Kees van de Watering, vice-president of Process Engineering at Aker BioMarine. Through its activities at the new site in Ski Næringspark near Oslo, the company aims to help evolve Norway’s marine biotechnology competence cluster.

As a manufacturer of seafood ingredients, Aker BioMarine believes it has a responsibility to improve human health through product innovation and sustainable harvesting technology without compromising the health of the planet and its marine ecosystems. To that end, the company intends to decarbonise both its krill fisheries and production. Aker BioMarine’s decision to cooperate with GEA was motivated in part by the systems supplier’s consistent pursuit of sustainability together with the reduced carbon footprint its process technology offers. GEA will engineer the pilot plant for krill protein with a view to sustainability. While every component’s energy consumption and longevity are checked, major efficiency gains are secured thanks to streamlined process planning and automation.

Functional foods call for creativity from manufacturers and technical experts

GEA has been tasked with designing all technical processes in the krill protein hydrolysis pilot plant as well as supplying and integrating the machinery and components. The plant will utilise the GEA CODEX based automation system. Thanks to a highly flexible design, the facility lends itself to further product development and innovation.

“The functional food – or New Food – market is currently evolving very dynamically. Innovators such as Aker BioMarine are not only unlocking entirely new sources of human nutrition and health but also doing so without compromising the climate and environment. We are thrilled to join Aker BioMarine on their journey into researching and commercialising krill protein,” said Heinz-Jürgen Kroner, senior vice-president of Liquid Technologies at GEA, commenting on the boom in this growth market that also holds strategic importance for GEA. “Assisting in developing new food sources provides us with an exciting opportunity to showcase our own creativity in process technology.”

The pilot plant is to serve as a benchmark for further protein hydrolysis equipment in the future.

Making krill protein fit for human consumption

Having recently been generally recognised as safe (GRAS) by an expert panel, INVI, a sustainably sourced krill protein hydrolysate and the final product from the pilot plant, is now ready to be marketed in the United States (US). Krill protein has a complete, well-balanced amino acid profile and protein content of over 90%. Hydrolysates are known to be well absorbed by the human body as a result of the hydrolysis that takes place in the process and is consequently well suited to use in functional foods.

Following extensive research into protein powder, Aker BioMarine has developed a production process that converts protein flour into high-quality protein hydrolysate powder for human consumption. In commissioning the pilot plant, which will expand production from the current lab-based operation into a scalable, industrial process with a capacity of 120 tons per year, Aker BioMarine will develop and sell commercial products and work with partners to create new market opportunities.