Aquaponics firm eyes a green future, with lentils in starring role

After a year of research and development on Vancouver Island, and a crowdfunding campaign that reached $750,000, a new agri-tech company is preparing to significantly expand its footprint and hit the market with a plant protein.

Pontus Water Lentils, which has been doing research and development at a test farm run by Victoria’s Garden City Aquaponics, has developed an aquaponics system — a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics — to produce water lentils. It says those lentils pack an unrivalled protein punch.

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Chief technology officer and co-founder Steve McArthur said Pontus has developed a grow and harvest system which, when installed in a new facility, will be capable of producing 100 metric tonnes of water lentils.

McArthur, who also founded Garden City Aquaponics, said the plan is to build a new 10,000 square foot facility for the closed-cycle system. It will also grow and nurture rainbow trout — the fish waste is converted by microbes into fertilizer for water plants, which in turn filter the water for the fish.

“It’s a grown-in-Victoria business,” said McArthur. They are considering sites for the facility in Langford or on the Lower Mainland.

He said the water lentils grown in the facility would be dried and turned into about 6.4 metric tonnes of protein powder that can be used as a supplement for protein shakes, a partial ingredient replacement in foods such as pasta, or to be used in manufacturing food such as protein bars and beverages.

The company intends to package the powder for sale to grocery stores and find partners to produce a line of products packed with the protein-rich powder, while the fish will be sold to local grocery stores and restaurants.

McArthur noted they have already had some success in producing fish and leafy greens at Garden City, as they sold fish to local restaurants and small-scale production of leafy greens to Red Barn Market and other grocers as well as local chefs.

Currently, Garden City, which produces two types of tilapia and the water lentils, is being used entirely for research and development for Pontus, but it may revert to producing small-scale food for local stores and restaurants when Pontus opens its facility.

McArthur said the high-protein water lentils add a protein boost to various products.

“The final product is 42.1 per cent protein by weight, that’s pretty significant,” he said, noting that is higher than both pea and pumpkin protein. “In terms of plant-based protein that’s one of the highest and we would be growing it aquaponically on a commercial scale.”

The next step for Pontus is the larger facility, which McArthur said they now have the money to build.

Pontus started a crowdfunding campaign on Frontfundr.com. It had hoped to raise at least $750,000 and as much as $1.25 million to build its first production farm. To date, it has raised just over $766,000; they are also raising private capital.

When built, the facility will be capable of producing 6.4 metric tonnes of dried and powdered lentils and about 11,000 trout every year.

McArthur said the market opportunity is big as the product ticks a lot of boxes in terms of its sustainable production, the massive demand for plant-based protein, and food security.

The facility is scalable, moveable could be built almost anywhere and has a small environmental footprint, he said.

The company says the farm uses less than five per cent of the water used in field farming and has none of the carbon footprint.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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