US algae firm will upscale and enter Southeast Asia with Indonesian investment

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Indonesia

Commercial-scale algae production has received a Southeast Asian boost
Commercial-scale algae production has received a Southeast Asian boost
A US$15m strategic investment from Indonesian agribusiness group, Salim, will increase research and production capabilities and open new market doors for US algae technology firm Heliae.

The US venture company plans to open an algae R&D centre and commercial-scale production space in Indonesia at the beginning of 2013 with the latest capital injection.

The four year old start-up firm from Arizona State University, supported by the Science Foundation of Arizona, has developed a technology platform applicable for commercial-scale algae production. It offers customers a “turn-key solution to produce affordable, renewable materials from algae,”​ for use in foods, the company said.

Nick Donowitz, director of business and corporate development at Heliae, said: “We are a one-stop shop for algae production design, systems and services.”

The technology platform “starts with strain selection and adaptation, and includes the growth platform, dewatering, extraction, and some aspects of bio-refining,”​ Donowitz told FoodNavigator-Asia.

“We are innovating in areas of strain development, growth systems and extraction methods,”​ he said.

The company has invested heavily in intellectual property, he said, with 115 patents filed to date and 16 awarded.

The company’s relation to the wider food industry is two-fold, he detailed. “Firstly, we offer technology to commercially produce algae that is sought after by certain segments of the food industry for its nutritional and health benefits, namely protein, omega oils, carotenoids and phytosterols,”​ he said, but the technology platform can also, “help remediate costly bi-product streams resulting from industrial food production,”​ as they can be used to grow the algae.

Currently the company runs a demonstration-scale production facility and R&D centre in the US but the investment from Salim will enable upscale of research and production activities in both the US and Southeast Asia.

Southeast algae strengths?

“The potential power of algae is enormous, but the organism has yet to truly be harnessed,”​ Donowitz said, noting the youth of the industry.

“Up until a few years ago, we lacked the technology and the knowledge of all we could access within the algal cell to take to market. With improved production technology and better understanding of the metabolic process, many additional markets are open to use and we are finding ample demand for algae in markets that simply have yet to be educated on the value proposition algae holds for their sector,”​ he added.

Asia is set to be the largest market for algae-based products in the future, he said.

“To lead in the algae industry, we’ve long understood that companies must acknowledge the power of the Asian markets and position themselves accordingly,”​ he said, and “with this investment and strategic partnership from Salim, we accelerate our Asian activities and are able to fully capitalise on a strategy that has included Asia from the outset.”​.

“With a long vision, broad diversification, and a distribution system that is second to none in the region, we feel strongly that the Salim Group is poised to add much to our business.”

Market pull for algae-based products in the food and beverage sector generally is vast, Donowitz noted, but especially within segments focused on functional food ingredients as the natural healthy components of algae means it lends itself to these sectors.

An R&D centre will be set up in Indonesia next year, he detailed, with planning and cost estimates underway. Heliae will manage it but “we see deep engagements and collaboration on both sides.”​ 

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