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Canadian algae developer pivots toward cannabis

By Hank Schultz

01-Feb-2017

Algae Dynamics has been developing a proprietary control and fermentation system for the cultivation of heterotrophic algae. Algae Dynamics photo.
Algae Dynamics has been developing a proprietary control and fermentation system for the cultivation of heterotrophic algae. Algae Dynamics photo.

Development stage company Algae Dynamics Corp is among the latest dietary supplement firms to succumb to the allure of CBDs and other fractions of the cannabis plant.

Under the influence of investment partners, the company, founded at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, has moved toward applying its extraction expertise to the realm of cannabidiol (CBDs) and other fractions of Cannabis sativa for dietary supplemnet and potentially pharmaceutical products to be sold into the Canadian market.  The company up to now has been perfecting a process for the growth of heterotrophic algae and the extraction of lipid-based products from that biomass. The expertise developed in that effort can translate into a value add for cannabis extraction, said Richard Rusiniak, CEO of Algae Dynamics.

“To do a simple oil extraction, everyone does this,” Rusiniak told NutraIngredients-USA.  But cannabis and industrial hemp are complicated botanical sources, and simple oil extraction yields  an oil rich in a host of chemicals, some desirable, others less so.

“In order to define very specific compounds, you have to separate them and separate them in such a way that you have only those compounds,” he said.

The investment partners working with the firm saw cannabis extracts as a more attractive near term opportunity, said Algae Dynamics president Paul Ramsay.  But that doesn’t mean the company is abandoning its core competency.

“They wanted us to develop these two oils, algae oil and hemp oil, together,” he said.

Core algae competency

The company’s core development target up to now has been a proprietary fermentation system known as BioSilo, featuring a step-up fermentation process in common with other fermentation processes. The company has graduated from its first digs in a basement in Waterloo to a development stage facility in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto.  There the company will continue to work on its product development strategy the extraction of omega-3 fatty acids from certain strains of algae, with high concentrations of DHA which is an important nutrient for brain, eye and heart health, as well as the creation of various nutraceutical products developed therefrom. In light of the many demonstrated health benefits of other botanical oils, most notably cannabis oil, the company has developed a strategy aimed at developing new products combining the health benefits of algae and cannabis oils.

The regulations pertaining to hemp and cannabis are complicated. In the US there is a patchwork quilt of contradictory statutes between the federal and state level. No one can say at this point whether the Trump administration will continue the policy of the Obama administration to allow trade in cannabis and industrial hemp products in those states with laws making the practice legal, even though it remains technically illegal at the federal level.  The picture is somewhat clearer in Canada, but even there cannabis is not just another botanical.  Ramsay said the next step for the Algae Dynamics is to acquire a hemp grower in Canada in order to get a license to work with the plant. 

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