Roquette may bring more microalgae plants into the family

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Fatty acid

Roquette has plans to acquire more microalgae plants as part of its long-term strategy to become an important player in this emerging and interesting area of nutrition and health.

In early 2008 the French ingredients firm acquired 100 per cent of the BPS microalgae plant in Klötze, Germany, after having bought a 20 per cent share last year. It has also received funding from the French government to develop the microalgae sector with a number of partners.

Chairman Marc Roquette told attendees at an event to mark the family-owned company’s anniversary in Lestrem, France, this week that he “would like two or three other microalgae plants”​.

He added that the profit from microalgae can be up to 30 per cent more than traditional agriculture, but it does not cost less to produce. Over the next ten years, microalgae-derived ingredients are expected to have growing applications not only in nutrition and health, but also in cosmetics and other high value products.

The move into microalgae is a big departure for Roquette, which has focused mostly on starch, from potato, wheat, corn and pea, throughout its history. It currently has an annual turnover of €2.5bn.

BPS in action

The BPS plant, meanwhile, saw turnover of more than €1m in 2007. Designed for between 100 and 150 tonnes per year, it is already delivering dietary supplements under the Algomed and Echlorial brands (in Germany and France respectively), and cosmetics and aquaculture products.

BPS boasts 20 bioreactors, each comprising 25km of glass tubes. These are housed in a greenhouse covering 1.2 hectares, and have access to natural sunlight.

Although there are some 300,000 microalgae around the world, 100 of which are studied, Philippe Caillat, business development and marketing manager, told this website that only about 10 are used for nutrition purposes. The most common are spirulina and chlorella.

For now, BPS works solely with chlorella. This microalgae boasts a 50 per cent protein and 10 per cent mineral content. It is also rich in antioxidant pigments such as chlorophyll, vitamins such as B12, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and fibrous cell structures.

Caillat said that in the future Roquette may look at other sustainable ways of producing microalgae, such as fermentation.

“There is a huge number of possibilities. Roquette is open to all options – be it new extracts or new facilities.”

Five-year plan

Roquette’s pre-industrial development plan for microalgae is dubbed Algohub. It involves 14 commercial and technical partners and French government agency Oseo.

Algohub has a total budget of €28.4 million, and €9.7 million of subsidies and refundable grants at its disposal.

The aims of the project are to study biodiversity; develop efficient production systems to produce microalgae in quantity and quality; extract and purify nutritional compounds of interest; to demonstrate the benefits of these compounds in nutrition and health; and to set up a concentrated and integrated microalgae processing sector.

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