Alltech opens premiere algae fermentation facility

By Luke Geiver | March 02, 2011

A recently renovated algae fermentation facility in Winchester, Ky., could be the key to help Alltech, the global animal nutrition provider that purchased the facility for $14 million, reach the $1 billion revenue threshold by 2015, according to Pearse Lyons, president of the company. After $200 million in renovations, the facility is expected to come online sometime in April. Dan Haney, Alltech’s director of global manufacturing, said the plant “is just full of opportunities.”

For one, he said the plant is very flexible. “There is a slew of fermentation vessels here—there is about 1.2 million liters of fermentation capacity ranging from bench-scale one-liter fermentors up to 265,000-liter fermentors.” He also said it has one of the most state-of-the-art pilot facilities anywhere. The pilot facility is an exact, 3,000-liter unit replica of the larger production unit that Haney said allows the facility to more easily perform scale-up on any new products or processes.

The facility has also been utilized for a number of different purposes, and as Haney explained, has a long history. “It was originally built by a company that was producing a yeast product from whey that was being pumped over from a local dairy facility.” Then, he said, “The plant was sold to a Coors (the beer company) biotech division. They were producing vitamin B2.” Before Alltech purchased the facility, Martek Bioscience Corp. used it to produce Omega-3 fatty acids for food, which Haney said were algae based products.

“One of our core competencies is fermentation,” he said. “Today we produce animal feed additives from products such as yeast, bacteria, enzymes and other natural products, so it only made sense when the plant became available. It is literally only 40 minutes away from our corporate facility in Kentucky.”

The plant features two types of fermentors, including mechanical agitation and bubble column fermentors. The main building is more than 100,000 square feet and covers nearly 17 acres. “Today we are focusing on our primary business, which is animal feed additives,” he said, “but there are so many applications for algae that make this so exciting.”

Haney said that Alltech has already conducted an extensive amount of research and development for algae-based biodiesel and the pilot facility will continue to conduct that research. Drawing from a vast culture collection, the process to utilize the algae would start with a frozen vile of culture, he said, and then depending on the strain, within a couple of weeks that small frozen vile has grown into 265,000 liters of algae biomass. Alltech grows the biomass in the fermentors, and then uses centrifugation to recover the cells. Then, he explained, the algal biomass is sent through large tower sprayers that dry the product to its final form. “It is a very automated plant. You are basically running all the production units from the control room.”

While Alltech held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which 60 global attendees watched Lyons officially open the facility, the company has been busy with other ventures as well. Alltech also held a conference focused on algae development that included a tour of the eight-story facility. The conference, Lyons said, was important to the region, the state, and “to the future of science.” What science needs, he said, “is a game changer, and algae is going to be that game changer.”

To view a video tour of the Algae fermentation facility, click here


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