Arkeon’s CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Gregor Tegl is on a steady quest for new technologies that have the potential to revolutionize the way we’re utilizing the natural resources of our planet. Gregor obtained his PhD at BOKU Vienna and has over ten years of experience in biochemistry and biotechnology. He was awarded the Wissen Schaf[f]t Zukunft Preis and was granted the Erwin-Schrödinger-Fellowship by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Can you share what Arkeon does and what its mission is?
Arkeon is a tech company that utilizes CO2 to create the most nutritious and best tasting ingredients for the next generation of alternative protein products. The company’s mission is to enable food production independent from agriculture and climate. Arkeon’s proprietary gas fermentation technology converts CO2 directly into all 20 proteinogenic amino acids necessary for the human diet – using only a natural fermentation process and the help of archaea microbes.
Arkeon turns CO2 into functional ingredients for food. For those that may not be familiar, can you unpack that and explain how that is actually possible?
We use a natural fermentation process that needs CO2 to work. It's kind of like brewing beer, except instead of using sugar for feeding the brewer’s yeast, our little microbes use carbon dioxide. We take CO2 emissions from industry and use them to make our protein ingredients.
From a scientific process perspective, how do you go about creating protein ingredients? What does the start to finish tangibly look like?
Our process is a team play of different scientific disciplines, ranging from molecular biology, protein engineering to food science. While the process itself is simple – we are feeding our microbes with gases such as CO2 and they in turn produce amino acids for us – the stabilizing, optimizing and separating aspects of the process is what needs a complete team of scientists and engineers to operate and run.
Archaea is obviously a large component of what you do and what you re building. Can you tell us what it is and why it’s so fundamental to Arkeon?
Archaea are single-celled microbes that we use to make our protein ingredients. They're part of what scientists call "the third domain of life." They were discovered in the 1970s by Dr. Carl Woese, an American biophysicist and microbiologist. Archaea thrive in extreme habitats and feed on CO2. We use archaea microbes in our process because with their help, we are able to produce amino acids directly from CO2, independent from land, animals, and excess water.
You have a huge focus on being regenerative, not just sustainable. Can you explain what you see the difference being between those two concepts?
Sustainable businesses try to maintain the status quo. They don't want to degrade our ecosystems further. At Arkeon, we think we can do better. What's more — we know we can. Our technology is regenerative. By using carbon dioxide emissions from industry and an ancient microbe to naturally ferment our protein ingredients without using land or lots of water, we go beyond sustainability. Our goal is to restore, renew, and regenerate the planet.
What are some of the misconceptions you have found to be untrue in the process of building Arkeon?
The food industry is very pragmatic and focuses on affordability which makes sense given that food needs to be available for everyone. Although there is the sentiment out there that new, sustainable food alternatives are needed – eventually the decisions of companies and consumers come down to basic aspects such as price and taste. Together with our industry partners we are operating as close to market realities as possible to make sure that we create products that really make a difference.
What are you most excited about for the future of food as a whole?
In our vision, during the next 5–10 years, collaborations, partnerships, and investments will continue to enable the adoption of technologies across the alternative protein sector, ensuring large scale facilities to meet high volume demands and competitive costs.
The further development of microbial fermentation will have raised the bar for widely available animal-free products that are delicious, functional, and sustainable. Consumers will not only be aware of alternative proteins and their benefits to the environment, animal welfare, and human health but also actively accept and demand these new products.
What’s especially exciting is that the world will be on its path to achieving critical climate, global health, food security, and biodiversity goals, with alternative proteins being essential in paving the way.