New algae species for omega-3 production
Omega-3 fatty acid, an essential compound for human health, was historically extracted from fish. Catching of wild fish is not sustainable and leads to devastation of the ocean. Currently, 35% of fish are produced by cultivation in fish farms, which require high quality fish food, including supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids. The need to reduce impact on ocean populations generates an important market for a sustainable source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Microalga is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acid on earth and can be used to develop a sustainable system for omega-3 fatty acid production. Attempts to cultivate alga on land farms have mostly failed due to the climatic difference of terrestrial farms compared to the natural ocean environment where microalgae grow. These differences typically lead to unstable production and collapse of alga ponds by contaminates and predators.
We have recently isolated a local alga from a natural pond in Israel that has a combination of features that make it possible to overcome the limitations of algae agriculture and allow us to create a new source of omega-3 fatty acids. Our novel algae species:
- Accumulates 4 – 5% of its dry weight in Eicosapentoic Acid (EPA) – a type of omega-3 fatty acid), in both indoor and outdoor conditions.
- Has stable growth and EPA productivity at ambient temperatures (250C) as well as elevated temperatures (320C).
- Is tolerant to high light intensities and even stimulation of growth from moderate (200 mE) to very high light intensity (3500 mE, 1.5 intensity of sun light irradiation at noon in Israel).
We compared our strain with Nannochloropsis sp., a popular EPA commercial strain. In all conditions, our new alga species had higher EPA and biomass production. Moreover with elevated light and temperature (i.e. at conditions more similar to outdoor climate) we observed higher EPA production compared to Nannochloropsis sp. We cultivated this novel alga outdoors, and observed stable growth after 3 months with continuous dilutions. Our results show that this novel alga had double the biomass and EPA productivity compared to Nannochloropsis sp. (Fig 1). Based on our experimental observations and comparison to available data this new alga strain has the highest omega-3 fatty acid productivity and is robust to environmental conditions that were previously unavailable to algae agriculture.
Evaluation of economic potential
The expected market, at list in Europe for alga-based biomass, which can be used for animals, fish, and human nutrition has a volume of 2-3 millions tones dry matter/year and a turnover USD 20 billions a year. The price per kilo of dry biomass is ~15 USD/kilo. We estimate the production cost of alga biomass to be ~3-6 USD per kilo. Taken together, a one hectare algae factory could earn 0.8 million USD in profit per year. This profit estimate calculation is considering a 2 million USD initial investment for research, development, and factory construction. Based on our biomass yields, we anticipate the $800,000 / year profit would occur in year 3 of production.
The convenience of production, linked to both flexibility (ease of set-up, scalability, low cost, as well as the demands in time, technology, workforce, space, and materials), and the ecological benefits (conservation of biodiversity, driven by renewable energy, reducing dependence on fish, completely vegan, low-emission, low-waste), create a new opportunity for the Global Market, scalable to Billions in profit, and therefore a perfect asset for an investment in sustainable planetary health.
Research demonstrates that production efficiency of algal biomass is highly dependent of the type of algal strain, methods of cultivation, and the climate conditions at the location of production system (1). Final production, yield, and quality of biomass are the result of these three components. We propose to spend year 1 for discovering the most economically optimal way for efficient cultivation by direct evaluation of the productivity of our alga in different, small, experimental growth systems allocated in different climatic zones of Israel.
Our novel algae strain requires a formal legalization in order to promote products derived from the algae to targeted markets. We are currently negotiating with food agencies and providing them sufficient amounts of algal for characterization and registration. We anticipate this process to be complete in year 1.
Based on our year 1 experiment, we will plan and construct a production factory at the optimal climate zone and site with the most efficient biomass yield. We also will promote our product by establishing economical networks that will help market our product.
Start of production. We anticipate full market production yields in year 3, at which point we plan to create a long-term growth plan and promote new production facilities to cultivate algae in other non-arable lands to increase our sustainable model for algae-based products which will meet a growing human population, reduce impact by creating a sustainable agriculture system, and reduce pressure on the biodiversity currently harvested for food.
- Stephens E, Ross IL, King Z, Mussgnug JH, Kruse O, Posten C, Borowitzka MA, Hankamer B (2010), An economic and technical evaluation of microalgal biofuels. Nat Biotechnol.. 28(2):126-8