Vietnamese firm sees gold in 1000t-per-day of shrimp ‘waste’

By Neil Ramsden, Undercurrent News

“Zero waste” is one of many phrases used as part of sustainability offerings the world over, but biotechnology firm Vietnam Food (VNF) is taking it as literally as possible.

It estimates that, at present, around 1,000 metric tons of farmed shrimp per day is wasted in Vietnam in the form of heads, shells, and anything else not traditionally used in creating seafood products. Its goal is to “valorize” every last part of the shrimp until all that is left is clean water that can go back into the ecosystem for aquaculture and start the circle over again.

Loc Phan – General Director of the Company, and founder of Vietnam Investments Group, which holds a stake in VNF — told Undercurrent News that valorizing the “co-product” raw materials to the tune of 10 or 15 times would mean $1 per kilogram — or a potential $1 million per day.

He would not be drawn on current revenues, preferring to wait until commercial scale production of its latest product was fully operational in 2022, but he did note that in Norway — where the biotechnology is very advanced — “valorization of byproducts has achieved up to 28 or 30 times”.

At the very end of 2021, VNF commissioned its first commercial production line for the creation of the natural antioxidant astaxanthin. This has made it the “first mover” in mass-producing this pigment — which gives salmon its red color in the wild — and has added a fourth pillar to its portfolio of products, all derived from shrimp heads.

The other three are food ingredients (such as flavorings), bio-nutrients or peptides, biopolymers, namely chitosan. Mass production of astaxanthin will now be ramped up through the first quarter of 2022.

VNF’s current market focus for the new product is pet food and animal feed, including aquaculture. It could also have applications that benefit humans, including nutraceuticals and cosmetics, though these will be researched further down the line, the company said.

Its anti-inflammatory properties even mean it is being researched for supporting patients suffering from COVID-19, according to Linh Nguyen, VNF’s deputy chief strategy officer.

The company, she said, is aiming to become a global leader in the supply of “natural astaxanthin” (differentiated from synthetic astaxanthin, which is derived from the petroleum sector). The natural variety can be produced from microalgae and krill, which require cultivation and wild capture, respectively, and so carry a high market price.

Done at scale, the extraction of astaxanthin from shrimp shells could find a significant part of a market expected to be worth $965m by 2026, VNF believes.

The most important step for the company in its seven-or-so years of development so far has been to secure its access to its raw material, in the form of long-term contracts with Vietnam’s “top shrimp exporters”, said Nguyen.

It has also invested in revamping the collection and storage systems, ensuring that its raw materials are of a high enough quality and traceable back to the farms, she added.

This traceability “ties back into how hard we worked at revamping the raw materials at the beginning, how close we were able to work with our suppliers so that our collection of raw materials is a continuation of that supply chain”, added Lily Phan, VNF’s business development director.

“Our suppliers are actually the leading shrimp processors and exporters in the world themselves. So we are able to inherit that stringent traceability system; we don’t buy randomly, we’ve worked really hard to make sure that supply chain is consistent.”

With the Vietnamese government aiming to triple the country’s shrimp export values in the years to come, VNF sees that as meaning a raw material supply for its various products of as much as 500,000t.

As these supplies grow, the company is focused on launching its “base products” at a commercial scale and researching potential new ones, while also delving deeper into the uses for the shrimp peptides and other “customized” items launched in collaboration with partners, said Phan.

For instance, just at the moment, it is working on chitosan applications in dairy cow feed (in which it could help to replace the use of antibiotics), microencapsulation for household products or the preservation of foods, human hair care, and “bio-packaging”.

“One successful application can guarantee major revenue streams for us in the future for years to come,” Phan noted.

The article is shared with the approval of the author (Neil Ramsden). Please refer to Undercurrent News for the original article (Vietnamese firm sees gold in 1,000t-per-day of shrimp ‘waste’ – Undercurrent News)