Evonik

For almost 20 years the German specialty chemicals firm Evonik has made the amino acid L-lysine at this facility in Blair. Evonik and a partner will now spend $200 million to locate a new plant adjacent to this one, where they will make omega-3 fatty acids for animal food.

The omega-3 fatty acids in your dog’s or cat’s kibble might soon come from Blair.

A German specialty chemicals company, which already operates in Blair, and its business partner will spend $200 million to build a plant to make the ingredient, using a process the companies say will help the environment.

Evonik and its Dutch partner, Royal DSM, will build the plant next to an existing Evonik plant that makes the amino acid L-lysine, a feed supplement for livestock.

The new plant is expected to be operational in 2019, and it will add 10 to 12 jobs to Evonik’s current local workforce of about 100. The new jobs are operator and engineering roles that pay more than $50,000 a year.

The location, part of a hub of biotechnology activity, is a site owned by Cargill, which produces ethanol there.

Not only will the new omega-3 product made in Blair go into pet food, it will also help feed fish. It will be used by the salmon aquaculture industry — the farms that raise salmon for human consumption.

Evonik said its process will benefit the environment. It will make the fatty acids from marine algae. It won’t need to use any fish oil from wild-caught fish like sardines. Those are vulnerable to overfishing, and Evonik said they are a finite resource whose use limits the growth of aquaculture.

The algae are used in a fermentation process in a closed vessel, using dextrose derived from local corn, Evonik said.

Evonik expects its plant will produce a volume of omega-3s equivalent to about 15 percent of the current total annual demand for two types used in the salmon farming industry.

The two companies’ joint venture is called Veramaris and will be headquartered in the Netherlands. It was announced in March and is subject to regulatory approvals.

The news is the latest in a string of economic development announcements for Blair, the city of about 8,000 people 20 miles north of Omaha. It became a bioscience hub after Minnesota-based ag giant Cargill built an ethanol plant there in 1995. The hub has generated more than 1,200 jobs, including 500 at Cargill.

In May, Danish bioscience giant Novozymes said it plans to invest another $36 million in its plant, doubling fermentation capacity of enzymes used to get more ethanol from corn.

And Swiss biotech company Evolva said in May it would invest $60 million working with Cargill to produce a stevia sweetener, and would build a bioprocessing facility on Cargill land where it will make its own products.

“We continue to explore other opportunities with existing companies to see if there is any type of assistance we can provide them to help them grow or diversify,” said Lisa Scheve, executive director of the Gateway Development Corp.

“A lot of them have taken a strong look at how they as companies can help feed the world,” Scheve said, “and feed it in a more efficient way.”

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