Kickstart Fund supports collaboration project between Deep Branch and Delft University of Technology

In 2020, DSM NL established the Kickstart Fund to support the ecosystem around Planet B.io and the Biotech Campus Delft. With a total annual budget of 200 k€, the Fund sponsors activities in three categories: pre-startup support, startup support and ecosystem support. These funds are coordinated by Planet B.io.

Startup support focuses on collaboration projects between the startups at Planet Bio and Delft University of Technology, for example through Bioprocess Engineering Design trainees from the Engineering Doctorate program (previously known as PDEng program). Deep Branch is currently completing such a project, allowing them to kickstart their process development activities.

Deep Branch uses clean and renewable carbon and energy sources to create ingredients for a more sustainable food system. The company has successfully developed the (R)evolveTM fermentation platform, producing a single cell protein, ProtonTM, optimised for the animal feed sector. A liquid broth is generated by the fermentation, but feed development activities require the final product to be in a dry powder form. To remove this liquid excess, the deployment of a downstream process  (DSP) is necessary. An Engineering Doctorate project was created to design and develop DSP suitable for the existing Pilot facility and future commercial plants.

Initially, alternative technologies were screened by literature review and simulations to determine the optimum DSP configuration that matches the process specifications. The techno-economic feasibility of the selected commercial DSP design was then assessed by a custom-made Python model that performed technical and economic estimations, as well as process optimisations. The EngD trainee set the foundation for the deployment of the pilot DSP by designing the process, identifying commercial equipment, and engaging with respective vendors.

“At Deep Branch, we love the mutually beneficial opportunities this placement offers,” says Peter Rowe, Deep Branch CEO. “Thanks to the can-do attitude and freshly gained industry insights of trainees, it’s a great way to introduce new ideas and points of views to a company. We had the pleasure of welcoming Stella Gonidi for a placement at Deep Branch and the model she created will help facilitate our process scale-up by evaluating the economic viability and identifying major bottlenecks of the DSP in various plant scales.”

"In our Engineering Doctorate programme, post-MSc graduates in Biochemical Engineering are trained as bioprocess designers, in preparation for a career in industry," explains Adrie Straathof, associate professor TU Delft. "Part of this entails a one-year traineeship at companies, co-supervised by TU Delft. In case of Deep Branch, the trainee was partly involved in pilot process design and operation, which was a very valuable experience. Besides, as TU Delft supervisors of Engineering Doctorate projects, we often notice limitations of current academic knowledge and knowhow, and these inspire the direction of our in-house research." 

"Engineering Doctorate trainees are a good fit to start-ups working on developing a new technology, a new production process, or a new product," says Maria Cuellar Soares, CTO at Planet Bio. "For any company in this field is important to understand the scalability of their innovation, from a techno-economic perspective. This allows to identify early on cost drivers and technological and sustainability bottlenecks, so that this in turn can be translated into R&D targets. We're thus happy to facilitate a fruitful collaboration like this one, and proud to have an instrument like the Kickstart Fund to lower the threshold for the startups to access it." Collaborations with Delft University of Technology are also possible through the X!LEAD Innovation Program, where trainees work at business and innovation projects within the startup.

Interested in exploring the possibilities within the Kickstart Fund? Reach out to Maria.Cuellar-Soares@planet-b.io