A company operating in Little Falls is helping people stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it may soon be on the leading edge of alternative food sources.
NuMake, LLC, is owned by White Dog Labs of New Castle, Delaware. The biotech firm completed its acquisition of the former Central Minnesota Renewables plant earlier this year. It is helping promote health during the pandemic by producing USP-grade ethanol, the high-grade agent found in hand sanitizer.
Little Falls Plant Manager Ryan Carruth said NuMake is considered an “ethanol refiner” in its current state. As such, it takes in feedstock and puts it through a two-step distillation process, before going through a proprietary system which creates a “very high” grade of ethanol, according to White Dog Labs CEO Bryan Tracy.
“It’s all about smell and impurity composition,” Tracy said, referring to what makes a high-grade ethanol.
Hand sanitizer will typically have about a 60%-80% alcohol composition by weight. Products that include lower-grade ethanols will have removed the toxins and basic impurities from the compound, but will not have removed a bulk of the impurities. This is detectable by the lay person by its smell.
“When you use a hand sanitizer, you want it to smell clean; you want to feel clean,” Tracy said. “The stuff that is poorly refined, they’ve left a lot of those smelly impurities within the compound.”
Hand sanitizer is only one market for NuMake’s USP-grade ethanol. It is also used for personal-care products such as lotions, shampoos and soaps along with many cleaning products.
The production of USP-grade ethanol is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is planned for NuMake. Within the next year, Tracy expects the Little Falls plant will begin to produce a new protein that can be used in food sources for both humans and animals. The Little Falls facility will start on a modest scale and continue to build up over the next two or three years.
White Dog Labs has already been successful in producing this new form of protein, which is made by creating a microorganism — which is a protein in itself — during the fermentation process of products such as corn. The end result of the entire proprietary process is a product that is high in protein and can be used in alternative food sources.
Through a partnership with Cargill, the company has already been able to test out its product in feeding farmed salmon. It has garnered successful results wherein the fish were healthy and not at all lacking for protein.
There are also “zero allergens” associated with the protein created by White Dog Labs, according to Tracy.
“Our goal is to deliver nutritious, delicious and affordable alternative food options,” Tracy said. “I’m not here to villify animals. There is a place for growing animal sources and there is a place for alternative sources. But, when that consumer wants an alternative to animal-based proteins, they should not have to sacrifice nutrition.”
Currently, the plant employs about 20 people, with Carruth serving as plant manager alongside Operations Manager Jeremy Tyrrell. Carruth said once they begin to get into the fermentation side of production, they expect to double that and employ 40-50 people.
Carruth said he is “classically trained” as a microbiologist. He has worked with distillation and fermentation throughout his career, and both he and Tyrrell have been in Little Falls for about two decades.
“We are a protein-exporter around the world,” Carruth said. “We’re always looking for high-protein products that are also incredibly nutritious, but it is also not as dense. So that is going to also help with the export portion because it will save on bulk shipping.”
Tracy said Carruth and Tyrrell have a proven track record of working well together and are trusted within the community. Those factors along with their technical competencies and entrepreneurial spirit will help drive a new and growing industry in Little Falls.
Tracy also noted that proximity to places such as BioMADE in St. Paul — which recently received an $87 million, seven-year award from the U.S. Department of Defense to advance sustainable and reliable bioindustrial manufacturing technologies — will help the company cultivate important partnerships moving forward. He said Little Falls was an important component of that vision.
“Our planet needs more sustainable, nutritious, low-cost protein,” Tracy said.