Implementing PHEAST into Industry

Our project aimed to create a toolbox for the genetic engineering of K. phaffii, in order to broaden the application areas of this industrially popular and important cell factory (read here why we decided for K. phaffii). The secondary aim of our project was to valorize atmospheric methane using our methane-consuming cell factory, thereby contributing to the fight against climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and is often seen solely as a waste product, we want to change this perspective with our methane consuming cell factory. With our cell factory utilizing the waste stream methane to produce valuable biological products, we close the loop from waste to product, thereby aiding in the transition towards a more sustainable and circular economy. In Fig. 1 an overview of our project implementation plan can be seen.

Figure 1: An overview of the PHEAST implementation plan. The dotted line represents an input of interest, likely a protein of interest to be produced. The full lines represent physical shipment of either the protein of interest or our feedstock, methane. An important note is that the methane supplier can be the customer, but the customer could also be a third party.

As seen in Fig. 1, the methane would have to be transported to our site where the fermentation itself would be performed. The reasoning for this lies in our production platform, K.phaffii, which is a GMO. According to EU regulations [1] we cannot operate on-site, as GMOs of any class must be in a controlled and contained environment. Therefore, a big part of future work on our project implementation focuses on figuring out a methane collection method on site that does not require any GMOs, this must be done on a case to case basis as each customer might have different resources available. The collection of methane could be performed by us or by our customer in question. The collection of methane must be strictly regulated, since methane is a potential explosive additional safety measurements must be implemented to ensure the safety of our staff as well as our customers.

After a successful collection of methane our customers can order any protein of interest which we will produce in our K. phaffii GS115 cell factory with the help of our K. phaffi toolbox. After adapting our cell factory to produce the protein of interest, we introduce our K. phaffii strain into a U-loop fermenter set-up, then purify the produced protein and deliver it to our customers.

Challenges in the implementation are mainly concerned with methane as the feedstock and the fact that our cell factory is GMO. Methane is a low-energy molecule with low water solubility, which could make it troublesome to reach high productivity and yields of our products of interest. However, we expect the sustainability element to make up for this, as the end product would be renewable.

Companies within several industrial sectors could have great interest in our project. The agricultural industry could use our production platform to valorize the methane in their waste stream and produce protein for their livestock [2]. But also the oil and coal industry which are known to flare the methane produced as a by-product can instead monetize it and be more sustainable by using K. phaffii [3][4].

A potential end-point customer could be the food industry, buying our produced proteins, which could be used as food additives such as soy leghemoglobin for plant-based meat-alternatives. However, any other industrial sector in the need of sustainably produced proteins could have interest in our service. The trend towards sustainability is growing, resulting in an increasing interest in minimizing waste streams and therefore in PHEAST. Additionally, as our findings are publically available, the whole scientific community can leverage our created toolbox and use it for other sustainable applications.