Algatech has long used the closed tube system to produce the photosynthetic algae Haematococcus pluvialis, the species that produces the wildly popular antioxidant ingredient astaxanthin. This approach helps lessen contamination, the Achilles heel of all algae production systems. Open pond systems using raceways or other architectures are potentially cheaper from the standpoint of start up capital. But proponents of closed systems say that the greater amount of processing needed to weed out contaminants from the finished products and the potential interruptions to production caused by large-scale contamination events more than wipe out the open systems’ initial cost advantages.
Even some competitors have admitted to the purity advantages offered by Algatech’s approach. “Algatech has the best biomass,” said Rudi Moerck, CEO of Florida-based Valensa which extracts astaxanthin both from biomass supplied by its parent company Parry Nutraceuticals of India and from other suppliers.
All that being said, closed systems are expensive, and companies pursuing this approach are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies. Algatech has been testing the German tubes at its facility for a year now and reports that the tubes yield a 10% increase in production for its astaxanthin, branded as AstaPure. SCHOTT has a proprietary glass technology it calls DURAN that makes for a thinner-walled tube, with the thinner glass absorbing less solar radiation. SCHOTT makes a wide variety of glass products for many industries, including pharamceuticals and life sciences.
“The partnership with SCHOTT is an additional step toward achieving our objectives of optimizing production efficiency, and widens our capabilities in the development of new microalgae-based products,” said Hagai Stadler, CEO of Algatech.
“The success of thin-walled DURAN tubing helped increase algae production efficiency on a small scale, and now will be replicated on a larger scale,” said Raz Rashelbach, R&D manager at Algatech. “This is to support our strategy to double astaxanthin production capacity.”
Demand for astaxanthin has been has been increasing rapidly in recent years, and algal ingredient suppliers have struggled to keep up. Supply has fallen short, partly because Hawaii-based Cyanotech has switched to a finished-product strategy, and has diverted more of its in-house astaxanthin production to its own needs. This has created an opportunity for suppliers of ‘bio-identical’ ingredients, such as DSM. In response to this challenge, Alagatech joined with Cyanotech and Fuji Industries of Japan to form the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA) in an effort to highlight what it calls the difference between the natural and synthetic forms of the ingredient.