Persistent strong demand for astaxanthin continues to have an effect on the supply end of the sector. In the most recent development, La Jolla, CA-based Contract Biotics announced that it has begun construction on an additional six acres of algae production units at its San Diego County facility.
Contract Biotcis supplies its astaxanthin to Valensa International, based in Orlando, FL. Valensa extracts astaxanthin from biomass obtained from a number of suppliers, including from parent company Parry Nutraceuticals, which grows its algae in southern India. The Contract Biotics expansion will more than triple the existing capacity at the plant.
“Contract Biotics has proven itself as an algae biomass producer, and we are extremely pleased that Valensa was able to help support them by making a direct investment in the company. This investment will allow Contract Biotics achieve the growth to help Valensa fuel its strategic initiatives,” Rudi Moerck, PhD, president and CEO of Valensa said.
“But in general, the astaxanthin sector has not done a good job of meeting demand,” Moerck told NutraIngredients-USA at the Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA.
One issue in ramping up supply in the astaxanthin sector is the wide variety of methods employed by companies competing in the market. The approaches range from open ponds, to partially closed systems, to production methods fully enclosed within bioreactors. It’s unclear at this moment what the winning technology will be, or whether the various approaches will continue to be competitive.
A difficulty in astaxanthin raw material production is the matter of contamination. Israel-based Algatech deals with this by culturing its astaxanthin in a closed system of tubes. When the cells reach the optimum stage of maturity, nutrients are withdrawn and the Haematococcus pluvialis cells deal with this stress by beginning to form a protective cyst rich in astaxanthin converted from beta carotene within the cells themselves. This process takes a certain amount of time, but during that time other things grow, too, so achieving the theoretical maximum of astaxathin is an ideal cut short by the need to nip contamination in the bud. Algatech gets closer to this maximum than other producers, Moerck said, and that includes Valensa’s parent Parry.
“Algatech has the best biomass,” Moerck said.
Contract Biotics uses what it calls a hybrid greenhouse technology to deal with the contamination issue. Sourcing raw material from this facility and extracting it at Valensa’s facilities in Florida makes this the only astaxanthin that can make a fully “made in USA” claim, Moerck said.
The California facility is unique because it employs a hybrid greenhouse technology to protect the production ponds from outside contamination unlike other producers who employ “open” ponds. The use of U.S.-sourced biomass combined with its Florida-based organic certified extraction facilities makes Valensa the only “Made in America” Astaxanthin supplier on the market today.
The persistent supply issues in the sector provides an opportunity for synthetic astaxanthin. DSM supplies what it calls a “bio-identical” form it brands as AstaSana, while Valensa is close to bringing to market a form synthesized from beta carotene that it terms “bio-equivalent.”