Algae producer Solarvest nears market with organic omega-3 oil

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Solarvest's development lab on Canada's Prince Edward Island.
Solarvest's development lab on Canada's Prince Edward Island.

Related tags: Nutrition, Eicosapentaenoic acid, Omega-3 fatty acid

Algae production involves fostering the growth of individual, single cells.  But these remarkably flexible organisms afford multiple paths of entry into the nutraceutical business.  For Canadian company Solarvest Bioenergy, Inc., the path to its organic algal omega-3 oil involved waypoints in hydrogen production and protein expression for drug development.

Solarvest, based in Summerville on Prince Edward Island, specializes in the cultivation of Schizochytrium limacinum ​for its nutraceutical applications, an organism that in the wild inhabits the underside of Artic ice caps, said Garth Greenham, chief operations officer.

Faster path to market

The company had the experience that some other algae producers have had, namely that the path to market came easier in the nutraceutical sector than in other avenues.

“The company is about three years old, but the research team spent about 20 years in the animal vaccine business,”​ Greenham told NutraIngredients-USA.

“We started with a lot of interest in algae as a biotech product for protein expression. Algae has the ability to express highly bioactive proteins. The biotech business has been very good with viruses and bacteria, and algae was kind of new and very interesting. We have some really good intellectual property in that area,”​ he said.

“The hydrogen was later.  The company does have intellectual property in getting algae to produce hydrogen with only water and sunlight as inputs.  That is a project, but not a focus right now.

“But of course we are not getting any younger, and we knew we needed to drive the company toward some products, and we believe in omega-3s and we take them ourselves,”​ Greenham said.

Organic algae

So the company has developed a way for its organism to express algal omega-3 oils.  And with a twist:  Greenham says the companies patent pending process will be in full compliance with EU and USDA organic certifications.

"The Canadian team has worked with szichochytrium to express DHA and EPA,”​ he said. “We are going to put a premium product out there.  We believe we will be 100% organic; we haven’t had it certified yet.”

Solarvest has had a pilot plant under production and is well underway in the buildout of it commercial facility, Greenham said.  It recently completed a private round of financing that brought in an additional $100,000 toward completion of the facility.

“The facility is completed.  Right now we are looking on the purchase and installation of equipment,”​ Greenham said. When up and running, the facility will have a capacity of about 120,000 kilos annually, he said. “We are going to market organic products and we hope around March of 2014 to get these products (from the plant) to market.”

Sports nutrition products and different food matrices will be initial targets, Greenham said. And even before the commercial facility is complete, a Solarvest algal oil produced on a contract basis will debut in a sports drink in early 2014, Greenham said.

“One of our first products is a 100% natural sports drink. It’s not going to be sold as a high protein drink but more of a natural drink with DHA,”​ Greenham said.

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1 comment

40 years

Posted by Ari Maayan,

I would feel right at home in that lab with their benchtop fermentors. They're doing exactly what I did using the same equipment and set up that I used 40 years ago at The Institute of Microbiology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However I've moved on from the primitive set-up I used then. Good luck.

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