One of the many benefits of growing algae for biofuels, bioproducts, etc. is that there are different species that can grow in almost any kind of water, be it saltwater, wastewater, or freshwater. Companies have been utilizing this fact by focusing on how they can use water sources other than freshwater for their production systems. Algae Biosciences Inc. (AlgaeBio) is one of those companies and is utilizing brine water located in underground aquifers. Andrew Ayers, the founder and CEO of AlgaeBio answered some questions I had about their company and their process.
1. What are the levels of salt in the brine water you utilize in your process versus saltwater?
AA: Because an underwater salt dome interacts with the Coconino Aquifer in close proximity to AlgaeBio’s production facilities, AlgaeBio can adjust the saline content of its water simply by drawing it from a different underground depth. Generally speaking, the greater the depth of the source, the higher the saline content in the source water. It is a simple process for us to adjust the salinity to fit the specific growing conditions we require.
2. Could your process use marine saltwater?
AA: Yes, but AlgaeBio enjoys a distinct purity-of-product advantage over competitors growing algae in saltwater taken from the ocean or high-saline lakes or rivers. Those sources include contaminants, which make resulting nutritional products less valuable on the international market. AlgaeBio’s products for the nutraceutical, food additive, and pharmaceutical industries are remarkably pure, because of our pristine saltwater source.
3. How many brine aquifers like the one you use are in the U.S.? the world?
AA: There are only several known brine aquifers in the United States or elsewhere in the world — and none that we know of that contain pristinely pure brine water, and which are located in a sun belt. U.S. Patent No. 6,986,323 restricts the use of the Coconino Aquifer, and other inland saline aquifers throughout the U.S., to AlgaeBio or licencees of its choosing for the culture of algae, and any and all other marine species, using our methods and systems.
4. Is your process dependent on brine aquifers only?
AA: Having pure saltwater as a growth medium gives AlgaeBio the strategic advantage of potentially developing and growing a far wider variety of algae strains than would be possible using non-saline water. And this means AlgaeBio can engineer and produce a far greater array of ultra-pure products for the nutraceutical, food additive, pharmaceutical, and biofuel markets.
Nevertheless, our process systems could also be used to cultivate, harvest, and extract valuable commodities from fresh water-grown algae.
5. What do you do with your wastewater or the water that has accumulated too high of levels of salt to grow algae?
AA: As mentioned earlier, we can easily manage the salinity of the water we use in the growing process. When we have extracted all of the valuable micronutrients from the water, after several growth cycles, we evaporate the residual water and collect the residual salt for sale and use as road or water-softening salt.
6. What are the costs of producing algae in your bioreactor?
AA: AlgaeBio’s production costs are substantially less than those incurred by our biggest competitors, and there are multiple reasons for this. AlgaeBio uses free, plentiful sunlight and free, unlimited, pristine water to grow its ultra-pure marine algae; there’s no cost associated with removing contaminants from the water, because none exist.
7. Why are you mainly focusing on Omega-3 production over biofuels?
AA: The production of omega-3 fatty acid oils is merely a launching pad for AlgaeBio. Some years ago, we originally considered growing and harvesting shrimp from our saltwater aquifer source, but we steered instead toward omega-3 fatty acid oils because of emerging research regarding their wide range of health benefits — as well as the exploding international appetite for omega-3s. While the production of a higher-valued product such as omega-3s is our immediate focus, we are also actively researching fuel-based opportunities.
8. How many species of algae do you use?
AA: At AlgaeBio, we have identified and refined a core array of a half-dozen specific photosynthetic, naturally biodiverse algae strains that are ideal for our unique growing environment.
9. How big will animal feed production be in your business model?
AA: We expect that animal feed will eventually be a significant part of our business at AlgaeBio. However, it is likely that our principal product flow will be directed toward human nutrition and health, and towards providing renewable energy products.
Founder and CEO
Algae Biosciences Inc.