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From Astaxanthin to Zebrafish Feed: The Diversity of Algal Bioproducts

When you think of summer time, what comes to mind? Algae might not be the first image that pops into your head, but algae-derived materials are now found in a remarkable number of products, including products that can make summer more fun. For example, University of California-San Diego researchers recently unveiled a surfboard made with algae-derived oil instead of fossil fuel-derived polyurethane foam; while Florida Algae (ATP3 industry partner) sells a refreshing line of an algal food supplement called Spirulina Ice that can even be made into popsicles!

The algae-based products industry, including ATP3 industry partners Cellana and Valicor Renewables, is leading the way in creating diverse algae-based product portfolios that include nutraceuticals (e.g., omega-3, astaxanthin), food supplements, animal feeds and specialty chemicals. In addition, microalgae can be used in water treatment and carbon-capture systems to mitigate environmental issues, while simultaneously producing valuable biomass. Public education campaigns from industry organizations (e.g., AllAboutAlgae.com website maintained by the Algal Biomass Organizations) are helping to educate consumers on the many uses of algae and creating new market demands.

Overall, the U.S. biobased product industry is going strong — a recent USDA report underscores the significant economic impact of the industry with a contribution of four million jobs and $369 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013 alone. The algae biomass industry is poised to make even more contributions to the rising bioeconomy as it continually expands into new market territories.

In order to reach the goal of cost-competitive algal biofuels, diversification of algae-based markets will be key to maximizing revenue streams. This need is reflected by the recent award of $18 million from the Department of Energy to fund the development of valuable bioproducts and biofuels from algae. As part of these awards, the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (ATP3 lead organization) at Arizona State University will work with researchers at the Colorado School of Mines, Los Alamos National Laboratory and other partners to “enhance overall algal biofuels sustainability by maximizing carbon dioxide, nutrient and water recovery and recycling, as well as bio-power co-generation”.

In a Biomass Magazine editorial this year, Matt Carr, Executive Director of the Algae Biomass Organization, emphasized the need for the algal biofuels industry to take a “multi-market approach to commercialization” for long-term viability and to make profit less dependent on the price of petroleum-based oil alone. He explains, “The path is simple: Advance the technology and infrastructure through to initial commercialization, find revenues in new and bigger markets, repeat”. ATP3 as a consortium of expert academic and industry partners will continue to provide quality research and services to support the development and commercialization of diverse algae-based products as the industry advances. For collaboration opportunities with AzCATI or ATP3, contact John McGowen at John.McGowen@asu.edu.

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Spirulina Ice can be turned into popsicles, making a summer treat both delicious and healthy.
Algae-derived materials are found in a range of human health, animal feed and specialty chemical products.