With the purchase of an algae fermentation plant in November last year Alltech is profiling itself as an innovative company looking into new ingredients and solutions in animal and human nutrition. However, the world of algae is huge and needs further exploration.
It is estimated that there are over 800,000 species of algae that can produce more than 15,000 novel compounds. They have twice of the genome size of yeasts and a growth rate that is over 30 times that of terrestrial plants.
Algae can produce 300 times more oil per hectare compared to for example soybeans. The sunlight dependent species have the ability to a rapid and efficient sequestering of carbon dioxide in the growth process.
James Pierce of Alltech at their Symposium held in Lexington, Kentucky this week elaborated on what algae are and what can be obtained from these miniscule plants.
“Microscopic algae have been around for millions of years,” Pierce said. “They provide an exciting new platform for innovation, from pharmaceuticals to biodiesel to nutritional products.”
There have been decades of research on algae and their first use would be in biofuels, as a fertilizer, in pollution control and as a pigmentation source. In terms of novel food ingredients they can be a valuable source of vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidant such as DHA and EPA.
Four target species
Pierce focused on four species: Arthrospira, Chlorella, Dunaliella and Haematococcus.
“Arthrospira contain 55-60% crude protein and have been used in the secondary treatment of effluent from a methane generator to recover nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients,” Pierce said. “Their protein has a high biological value and is very heat stable.”
Chlorella are rapidly growing, single-celled green algae that offer tremendous potential for both food and energy production. “While they contain up to 45% protein, they can be excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids,” Pierce added. “They were already harvested by the Aztecs and used as a food source.
Dunaliella are known for high antioxidant and high beta-carotene contents and are routinely used in the manufacture of cosmetics and dietary supplements.
Haematococcus are fresh water algae that are a good source of astaxanthin, a pigment used in aquaculture and poultry diets.
“Livestock and poultry producers are positioned to take advantage of this renewable, traceable protein, fat and carbohydrate source,” Pierce said. “Algae are truly at the very heart of the future of energy and agriculture and the key to building a sustainable future of our planet.”