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Experienced food industry executive and research David Macnair has joined MiAlgae's board. Photo: MiAlgae.
Experienced food industry executive and research David Macnair has joined MiAlgae's board. Photo: MiAlgae.

Edinburgh-based biotech firm MiAlgae, which is growing algae from distillery wastewater to produce omega-3 for salmon and pet feed, has appointed global food and pet care specialist David Macnair to its board as it moves towards commercialisation.

MiAlgae uses the nitrates and phosphates in wastewater, or “co-product”, from the whisky-making process as a feed stock for omega-3-rich microalgae and saves distillers to cost of cleaning the water. It intends supplying the salmon farming and pet food sectors with an omega-3 product that can replace or reduce the proportion of wild-caught fish in feed formulations.

The company has targeted the pet food market for its first sales as it builds up production, as pet food makers requires less volume than salmon feed manufacturers.

A macro ambition for microalgae

MiAlgae raised £1 million from investors in January 2020 to scale up its process from a 1,000-litre pilot plant to a full-size 30,000-litre demonstrator plant to prove to both distilleries and feed producers that it is a credible partner. It has doubled in size over the past year and has around 18 staff.

The company has also been awarded £150,000 by the UK Seafood Innovation Fund for trials analysing the digestibility and nutrient retention of its omega-3 product in farmed salmon, while also determining the effect it has on the overall health and growth rates of the fish. 

MiAlgae is also taking part in the Whisky Project, which is led by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) and funded by Zero Waste Scotland. The project explores further ways to extract maximum value from whisky co-products such as draff, the husk residue left from fermentation, and pot ale, the liquid remaining after the first distillation.

Two other companies are also taking part. Heriot Watt University spin-out company Horizon Proteins has developed a patented technology to separate the protein content of pot ale, which is nutritionally perfect for fish feed, from other components which are anti-nutritional or harmful.

BioPower Technologies, currently makes flour from draff, will investigate the use of the liquid created in the process to see if it will be a beneficial product for use by Horizon Proteins and MiAlgae. BioPower will also carry out new investigations into the use of pot ale. 

40 years’ experience

MiAlgae said Macnair’s appointment comes at a time of accelerated change for the pet food industry as pet owners demand more scrutiny over what goes into food and how it is produced.

Macnair, who has a PhD in biochemistry from Leeds University, brings 40 years of food industry innovation, with a diverse background and experience holding science and business leadership positions roles at Cadbury Ltd, Mars Inc and Campbell’s Soup Company. These included being vice president of R&D for Mars Global Petcare for five and a half years.

He said: “I believe MiAlgae has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on reducing and hopefully eliminating the need for wild caught fish as the source for omega-3.

“I also believe we can expand MiAlgae’s core technology into other areas to provide environmentally sound and sustainable solutions for waste streams while creating value-added products. Ultimately I want to see good science translated into truly sustainable and environmentally responsible businesses.”

Evolving market

Pet owners are demanding more than simply ‘pet food’ and the industry is evolving rapidly to truly become ‘pet care’, MiAlgae said in a press release.

“How we feed our pets mirrors how we choose to eat ourselves,” said Macnair. “So, everything we value, from the integrity of the ingredients, how the food is prepared and how we feel when we feed it is very important. We want to feed our pets well, but responsibly, so increasingly we judge pet foods through the same lens as our own food. This will continue to be the case and the industry is moving strongly in this direction.”

Douglas Martin: Macnair can help create a top team.
Douglas Martin: Macnair can help create a top team.

Truly sustainable

Douglas Martin, founder and managing director of MiAlgae, said Macnair’s eclectic career means he brings huge diversity of experience. 

“He is known for the role he plays in hiring, developing and nurturing talent,” said Martin. “We believe he will help us create a team that will have a profound impact on solving major environmental challenges, while creating a truly value-added and sustainable business model.”