Roquette develops algae culture

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Algae

French supplier Roquette is moving beyond its protein and carbohydrates core area by investing in a five-year project to bring microalgae extracts to market.

In conjunction with 14 commercial and technical partners and a French government agency, Roquette said it would release algae extracts such as omega-3, lutein and astaxanthin under the name Algohub.

For the time being, development work was taking place at a plant in Germany with an in-house growth and extraction facility expected to come online at Roquette’s northern France headquarters in early 2009.

The company said the employment of “closed systems” ​– growing algae in controlled indoor environments – would boost extraction potential. Most algae extraction occurs in open systems such as the sea and lakes.

Super legume

“Microalgae is in essence a super legume,”​ Marie-Hélène Saniez-Degrave, the head of nutrition and health research and development programmes at Roquette, told “It has 10 times the lutein content of most plant sources. With the extraction processes we are developing we will be able to better metabolise the microalgae and improve productivity.”

She said Roquette’s photobioreactor tests indicated 20g of bioactive mass could be delivered per litre compared with some market outputs of around 0.5g per litre.

Ingredients, when they reached market, would be competitive with the likes of existing omega-3 and astaxanthin offerings that were priced at as much as $150 (€110) and $3000 (€2210) per kilogram respectively.

The food and feed markets would be targeted as well as food supplements.

“There is a great demand for fish feed so that will be a big market for us as well as foods and supplements,”​ Saniez-Degrave said. “There is great potential in the eggs market if chickens are fed algae feed.”

The arrangement with the French government agency meant €10m of the €30m development budget would be reimbursed if the ingredients were commercially successful within five years.

The initiative’s 14 partners include pharmaceutical, food industry, plastics (for algae growth), ingredients developers and research institutes.

She said studies were in the pipeline and health claim submissions were being compiled for submission to the European Union’s health and nutrition claims regulation.

Saniez-Degrave wouldn’t specify which claims were to be submitted but did note potential health benefits of algae extracts included cholesterol control, hypertension and reduced risk of pathogens such a free radicals.

The move into algae reflected a broader diversification strategy for a company that has spent most of its 75-year existence focusing on carbohydrates such as starches and sugars, she said.

In recent years the company had moved into pea proteins as it sought to make use “of all parts of the plants it sources”.

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