Taking micro to macro: Producing algae at scale
Microalgae are an interesting source of nutraceuticals as they can produce a range of compounds with bioactive properties, including lutein, astaxanthin, chlorophylls, carotenoids, phycobiliproteins, and polyunsaturated fatty acids – compounds that are useful for human supplementation as they are not synthesised internally by the body.
One of the key challenges of working with microalgae is producing them at scale, according to Lucie Giraud, nutraceutical application manager at Microphyt, a company that specialises in creating microalgae-based ingredients for the nutrition and beauty sectors.
To combat this, the Montpellier-based company developed and patented what it says is the first hydro-biomimetic technology for growing microalgae: Camargue photo-bioreactors. The proprietary technology is based on a two-phase flow process, reproducing the natural conditions microalgae need to grow, while optimising gas-liquid transfer. It is highly efficient in the production and extraction of bioactive compounds.
“This ground-breaking innovation makes it possible to cultivate any kind of microalgae, including fragile species whose cultivation was previously impossible,” said Giraud. “The microalgae are cultivated without any GMOs or pesticides in a closed environment in which each parameter – from the temperature to the amount of light – is carefully monitored.
“Our ambition is to continue to unlock the power of microalgae, as it can produce a lot of bioactive compounds with promising health benefit. To do so, we are currently building our new production facility and represents the first-of-its-kind fully integrated microalgae biorefinery at an industrial scale.”
Giraud said the new facility would allow the company to increase its production capacity five-fold, allowing it to answer increasing demand.
Creating stable, healthy products that satisfy the senses
Microalgae are a large, diverse group of microorganisms that form the source of the food chain for more than 70% of the world’s biomass. They have a high protein content and contain bioactive compounds with positive health effects such as antihypertensive, anti-obesity, antioxidative, anticancer and cardiovascular protection.
Owing to their extreme environmental conditions and phototrophic mode of growth, microalgae are exposed to free radical and high oxidative stresses. This has resulted in them developing protective characteristics such as production of antioxidants and pigments.
How can manufacturers predict the shelf life of a product containing microalgae, ensuring that there are no organoleptic changes and that it meets the quantitative requirements for its active ingredients? Environmental factors, including the presence of oxidising or reducing agents, can affect the active ingredient within a supplement.
“Ingredient stability is key in order to ensure the efficiency of our ingredients,” said Giraud. “This is why the stability of our ingredients is not just investigated for storage conditions. We also developed several formulations to challenge the stability in various matrices or in the presence of other compounds. This approach allows us to support our customers in the development of their preferred formulation and target galenics, depending on their project and their needs.”
Such investigations can help manufacturers identify and balance the sensory properties of a product, Giraud explained.
“Regarding the organoleptic properties of our ingredients, we use the same approach,” she said. “Microalgae can have specific organoleptic properties, often characterised with an ‘iodised’ smell, for example. We can work with flavourist to help us to balance the taste, in order to offer the best product.”
Next steps: Leveraging fucoxanthin from microalgae for metabolic health
“With the constant increase of consumer demand for natural and sustainable solutions for health and wellness, we are working on several product developments, trying to best meet consumers’ needs,” said Giraud.
She pointed to obesity as a crisis with global implications for global health, and said the company’s latest ingredient would leverage the properties of fucoxanthin, a xanthophyll carotenoid abundant in microalgae that has demonstrated potential health benefits in the prevention of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and liver disease.
“As we are able to produce on a large-scale new microalgae species that can offer interesting active molecules, we are looking for other interesting market categories, such as sports and active nutrition,” she added.