Microalgae veteran Andrew Jacobson, CEO of parent company ArcticFarma, said the company’s unique location offers several advantages.
“When you grow algae what you need is power, and water. The great thing about Iceland is we use 100% geothermal power. And the water is so pure when it comes out of the ground no chlorination is needed for drinking water,” Jacobson told NutraIngredients-USA. Jacobson knows a thing or two about specific site advantages as he spent a previous stint at microalgae pioneer Cyanotech at the company’s open pond production plant on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Algalif’s facility is located at the old US Navy base, long a Cold War feature of eastern Iceland that was first built during World War II. Since its closure the base has become an industrial redevelopment area, with convenient facilities for new businesses such as Algalif, including being adjacent to the country’s main airport. (Cyanotech’s facility is next to an airport, too, as it turns out.)
Starting from scratch in early 2014 helped to magnify the natural advantages that Iceland offers, Jacobson said.
“We have the advantage of putting in the newest technology in terms of pumps and other things. We don’t have to go through and retrofit an older facility,” he said.
One other thing that algae needs is light, and in that respect Iceland is lacking for large stretches of the year. For Algalif this is not an issue, as the company had chosen from the get-go to locate their closed tube facility indoors and grow under artificial light. And not just any light, Jacobson said. Haematococcus pluvialis, an algal species that produces astaxanthin and that has been universally chosen by producers of the ingredient, goes through a specific life cycle on its way to amassing quantities of the red carotenoid in its cell walls. Delivering certain wavelengths of light at the various stages of that cycle, including the end stage where the algal cells are deliberately stressed to make them produce high levels of the protective antioxidant, can boost the productivity of the organism, he said.
“We have developed a method with our lighting, an ability to manage the spectrum to harness the best parts of the sun for each phase within our growing cycle,” Jacobson said.
Algalif’s production plant has been churning out astaxanthin for a number of months, but until the spring of this year, all of the production was being soaked up by ArcticFarma’s brands that were being marketed in Scandinavia. Now the company is ready for the US market with a finished goods brand, Jacobsen said, that is marketed as “Icelandic Astaxanthin.” The brand, which is being sold direct to consumers for the time being, is pacakaged in 4mg and 12mg gel caps.
Even with all of the competition in the astaxanthin space, Jacobson believes there is plenty of room for new entrants. The ingredient is still in its infancy in terms of overall market awareness. It’s where vitamin C was fifty years ago.
“I think there still needs to be more done to get the word out about astaxanthin. I’ve been in the natural products business my whole life and from what I’ve seen, astaxanthin is an incredible ingredient that not many people know about. There are very few ingredients that can deal with regenerative stress like astaxanthin does. The studies that have been done on the ingredient are pretty amazing,” he said.