The history of microalgae finds its roots in the 17th century with the invention of the microscope but scientific and commercial interest in microalgae blossomed in the 20th century and boomed from around 2005 until perhaps 2015 due to oil prices of >>$100 per barrel and growing belief in “Peak Oil”. Being Mother Nature’s most prolific photosynthetic machine by far, the excitement around microalgae as the best alternative source for crude oil and liquid transportation fuels drove research, Federal grants, and significant commercial investments around the World, especially in the USA. Details can be found in this link and subsequent updates.
While many of those “early” microalgae biofuels companies have since failed, microalgae of course remain the best and most diverse photosynthesis platform in nature, and there remains significant interest and promise. For example, microalgae (and related species) are potentially prized in many higher added value applications ranging from animal feed (especially fish due to the much higher value than cattle feed), food (vegetable protein and more), nutraceuticals, pigments, anti-oxidants, plastics, and higher value (than fuels) chemicals. Even alternative, renewable fuels remain a potential target with any combination of valuable co-product and algae productivity allowing the technology to reach parity or better with fossil fuels. Microalgae also show promise in environmental remediation and carbon capture. From the foregoing, it is clear that fractionation of microalgae biomass into such valuable commercial products relies heavily on the ability to efficiently extract algae into these streams of products – and critical questions must be answered including What product (e.g. a given fatty acid)? In what form should the product be delivered (e.g. polar, bioavailable form, or as a (neutral) fatty acid ester)? Which strain? Scale, market size, market demands (GMP? GRAS solvent? Supercritical CO2 only?), competitive landscape, and more.
Generally speaking, an algae expert should have knowledge and experience across multiple disciplines including strain selection, microbiology, and phycology, growth conditions, site location and selection, carbon dioxide sourcing (unless heterotrophic growth aka fermentation), harvesting, drying, extraction methods (and selection thereof, batch/continuous/scale), fractionation and formulation, intellectual property, compliance, analytical chemistry techniques, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals. An expert in heterotrophic algae growth (fermentation) should have also sound knowledge of microbiology, biochemistry, fermenter design and operation, bioprocessing, and analytical chemistry.
Lee Enterprises Consulting is the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with over 150 highly qualified experts serving in all these areas. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide. Most of our experts are also available to advise and serve as expert witnesses in bioeconomy litigation matters. For the larger projects, we specialize in putting together full-service, interdisciplinary teams with one point of contact. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information.