BioProcess Algae, which grows microalgae on biofilms fed with waste heat and carbon dioxide from co-located ethanol production facilities, will target the animal feed and human nutrition markets, chief executive Tim Burns told NutraIngredients-USA.
“We’re looking at supplying raw materials to everything from the feed and feed additives market to functional foods and dietary supplements with a range of ingredients from proteins and carotenoids to [the omega-3 fatty acids] EPA and DHA.”
Senior scientist Toby Ahrens said: "We will be supporting development efforts for several products when our increased capacity comes online in late spring 2012, but we have certainly received much attention for opportunities related to omega-3 rich oils and sustainable alternatives to fish oil.
"Our goal is to be a feedstock provider of raw oils to groups that are interested in getting products to the customers. At this point, we are not interested in marketing a finished product."
He added: "Early efforts will focus heavily on opportunities for omega-3s (primarily EPA and DHA). We are currently working with groups that are interested in using our feedstocks for human nutrition markets as well as animal feeds including aquaculture."
Who has the most cost-effective production process?
A joint venture between filtration firm Clarcor, wastewater purification expert BioProcessH2O, ethanol producer Green Plains Renewable Energy, and renewable energy group NTR, BioProcess Algae has been progressively ramping up production capacity at its facility at Green Plains’ Shenandoah ethanol plant in Iowa, said Burns.
“Green Plains has nine ethanol facilities, each of which could support a BioProcess Algae facility. But there are more than 200 ethanol plants in the USA and we are also exploring other co-location opportunities all over the USA.”
He added: “There will be a lot more entrants to this market, so what it will come down to is who has the most cost effective production process, and we have a unique, low cost, production platform.”
Ahrens added: “Our approach is quite different from the traditional approach of growing in liquid cultures. We are able to drive down production costs by growing in controlled biofilms and bringing the algae out of the water into the light for increased productivity and lower dewatering costs.
"Our current target is 40-50t per acre per year of algal biomass. Tonnage of end product will depend on the quality and degree of processing required for particular markets."
As for extraction methods, he said: "We are currently vetting several technologies to find the most cost-effective methods that preserve omega-3 quality throughout the process."
Unlike the “capital intensive” heterotrophic (in absence of sunlight) process of growing microalgae via fermentation in large steel vats and feeding it with sugar-based feedstocks, BioProcess Algae grows its algae via photosynthesis (an autotrophic process) in biofilms exposed to light and uses waste heat and carbon dioxide from the neighboring ethanol production facility, said Ahrens.
Poultry feed trials
The firm has just completed a round of poultry feed trials using one of its algal strains with the University of Illinois, said Burns.
The results were very encouraging, with the algal protein proving to have an amino acid profile comparable to soy and a higher energy content, he said.
Burns entered the algae business about five years ago by adapting filtration technology developed by another company he co-founded, BioProcess H2O, which manufactures filaments to help grow waste-filtering bacteria.
Novel algal ingredients market heats up
BioProcess Algae is one of several firms promising to bring novel algal-derived ingredients to the food and supplements market in 2012, joining Solazyme-Roquette Nutritionals (developing a unique algal flour for reduced fat products), Aurora Algae (promising an ultra- concentrated 65% EPA-rich oil), Algae Biosciences (promising oils containing sought-after long chain omega-3s EPA and DHA) and Renewable Algal Energy (promising novel algal oils and proteins by Q3, 2012).
However, direct comparisons between these players are difficult as each have different microalgae strains, different technologies and different end products.