Astaxanthin already had a dedicated following among the long-distance runner and triathlete communities, based on the cardiovascular and joint health benefits of the ingredient, long before the ingredient exploded onto the national conscience in 2011.
Dr Joseph Mercola described the potent red antioxidant on the Dr Oz show as the “number one supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking”. Sales of products containing the carotenoid subsequently “skyrocketed”, and interest has remained high, as can be seen from the Google Trends data below.
There are several approaches to growing Haematococcus pluvialis, the microalgae from which astaxanthin is derived, including open ponds or closed tube systems. The algae - which starts out green - is fed CO2 and nutrients, but turns red (which means it's producing astaxanthin) in response to stress. Astaxanthin oleoresin is then extracted from the algal biomass.
There are a number of established algae-derived astaxanthin providers, including Cyanotech (Hawaii), AlgaTechnologies (Israel), and AstaReal (a subsidiary of Fuji Chemical Industries, with a production plant in Washington State), while Algae Health Sciences, a subsidiary of Chinese company BGG, is a more recent entrant.
Algalif only started production in 2014, microalgae veteran and CEO Jacobson told NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Vitafoods event in Geneva, Switzerland. The first sales were in 2015-16, and the company now offers ingredients and finished products to the US market.
The company’s facility near Keflavik in Iceland is located at the old US Navy base, long a Cold War feature of eastern Iceland that was first built during World War II.
“There is no better place than Iceland,” said Jacobson: The country ranks number two on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI). “We have geothermal power and fresh water that comes in at two different temperatures and the air quality is the fourth best in the world.”
“Our plant was set up in a way to keep conservation in mind,” he added. “The inputs are so clean that a unique product comes out.”
The company uses the closed tube system to produce its algae in a modular format, meaning that if there is ever a contamination then that section can be isolated and dumped without affecting the continuous running of the plant.
One other thing that algae needs is light, and in that respect, Iceland is lacking for large stretches of the year. To get around this (and the potentially inclement weather in the Northern Atlantic) Algalif grows its algae indoors under a proprietary artificial light system.
“The plant has been designed to allow expansion and to house multiple algae species,” said Jacobson. “Astaxanthin is the first product but we’re a microalgae company.”