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Verde Media forges ahead on production of low-cost microbial omega-3s

By Hank Schultz

23-Jul-2014
Last updated on 23-Jul-2014 at 17:15 GMT

A bench test of Verde Media's heterotrophic omega-3s production technology
A bench test of Verde Media's heterotrophic omega-3s production technology

Verde Media Group is moving forward with construction of a pilot plant in Asia that will validate its production technology that the company said will yield lower cost omega-3s from heterotrophic algae.

The company, which got its start in film production and subsequently moved into biotechnology, delved into heterotrophic with the acquisition of algae research company Butazyme earlier this year.  Butazyme’s technology focused on finding ways to use lower-cost feedstocks for heterotrophic algae production.  The cost of the feedstocks (sugars of some sort for most producers) are a significant barrier to cost-effective scale-up, said Syed Abidi, PhD, chief executive officer of Verde Media’s Biotechnology Division.

Lower cost inputs

“Our process is a microbial one using lower cost feedstocks,” Abidi told NutraIngredients-USA. “The economics of the fermentation process advance mostly on the cost of the feedstocks. Thirty percent to forty percent of the cost of microbial omega-3s is in the feedstocks.”

Abidi, who received his PhD in molecular genetics and biotechnology from Oxford University, researched ways to use lower cost inputs, other than the refined sugars that competitors rely on.

“We can do a non-sugar based feedstock. We can tap into those kinds of waste streams that others can’t such as the waste left over from biodiesel production, which is mostly glycerin,” Abidi said.

 “Or we can use switchgrass or corn stover as feedstocks. With our proprietary process we can use waste water that has a small amount of sugars and fatty acids.  We have developed a process that can use those dilute inputs.

If we can use those feedstocks, instead of turning them into biofuel (such as ethanol) we can convert the sugars in those feedstocks into omega-3s which is a much higher value product.  It is 50 times to 100 times more valuable than your regular biofuel on a mass-to-mass basis,” Abidid said.

Pilot plant

The demonstration plant for the new technology is being built in an as yet undisclosed location in Asia and is expected to have a 10,000-liter capacity when complete in the next three to four months.  In addition to saving money via the low cost inputs, the plant will also test Verde Media’s approach to saving money by putting the reactor vessels in the ground.  Ideal fermentation temperatures are 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, and the ground acts as an effective insulator, lowering energy costs, Abidi said.

In addition the the plant’s construction, Verde Media has also committed to building a rapid omega-3 oil profiling laboratory with joint venture partner Phoenix Energy to support the omega-3 project.

Wide open market

The markets for the products are huge, said Verde Media chief executive officer William Veve.  The potential markets include infant nutrition as well as aquaculture.

“We are targeting Asia, places like Pakistan,” Veve said. “We have investors in those parts of the world and there are a lot of cheap sugars available and the market is totally open for omega-3s there.

“This is the only sustainable source of omega-3s.  With production of one ton of microbial biomass we will save about 15 tons of fish. There are projections that by 2050 the marine coastal life will decline by about 70%,” he said.

“And in capturing a low cost waste feedstock we can actually help a process become greener so that everyone benefits,” Veve said.

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