OriginOil algae harvesting process proven to reduce bacteria

By OriginOil Inc. | December 20, 2012

OriginOil Inc. has announced that its algae harvesting process reduces bacterial concentrations by as much as 99 percent. This could extend the shelf life of liquid algae concentrate from hours to days, addressing a key problem standing in the way of the multibillion dollar algae industry. The results were achieved in lab tests under an independent university research program.

The company released a video illustrating the shelf stability breakthrough.

“When you harvest algae by any other means, it begins to smell very quickly, like fish,” reported Jose Sanchez, general manager of OriginOil’s Algae Division. “Bacteria and other invaders feast on the biomass, especially the valuable oils, dramatically reducing the value of the crop within a matter of hours. Based on in-house incubation tests, we can extend the life of freshly-harvested algae from the present 10-12 hours to 12 days or more. We believe that this has huge implications for our industry.”

Barry Cohen, executive director of the National Algae Association, agreed.

“Bacteria are a key issue in the algae production industry, so I know it's going to be a key problem to be resolved for our producers,” Cohen said. “It can also affect feed, food, fuels, and other coproducts made from algae—quality is key to the end user.”

Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil, said, “Our End-to-End Production Model shows that you need a lot of acreage to afford on-site processing facilities. Now imagine being able to make money even with a small algae farm—that can bring entrepreneurs to the table who could help our industry really take off.”

In the study, an independent university team harvested algae from both open ponds and closed systems, using a well-known centrifugal process on the one hand, and OriginOil’s Algae Appliance on the other.

The samples were then sent to an FDA-audited laboratory for analysis. When compared with centrifuging, the Algae Appliance reduced bacterial colonies by 98 percent in the case of open ponds, and 99 percent for bioreactors. The full report can be viewed here

“The algae, which has thick cell walls, survives our process, while simpler organisms are typically eliminated,” said Sanchez. “We believe it’s an elegant and economical way to sanitize cultures. We’ve already seen how our Algae Screen process can keep algae free of invaders in the growth phase. Now we know that there is concrete benefit at the harvesting stage too.”

OriginOil’s “Solids-Out-of-Solution” process uses the company’s proven Single Step Extraction to dewater algae, then a second stage to concentrate it. As shown in the recent test, the combined electrical activity is responsible for killing up to 99 percent of the bacteria and other organisms, while the algae cells survive in a nearly sterile environment.

Extending the shelf life and increasing the quality of algal biomass may very favorably change the economics of algae production, potentially generating new applications for algae.

Commercial algae farms are often located in areas with lots of sunlight and temperatures that exceed 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) in the daytime for several months a year. This makes spoilage a real concern. OriginOil’s Solids-Out-of-Solution process could increase the shelf life of algae at these high temperatures, allowing producers more time to process biomass into useful algae products with increased quality and reduced product loss.

Algae decay depends on the amount of bacterial colonies per gram (CFU/g). Once the number of bacterial colonies reaches a threshold, the algal biomass is considered “rotten.” The shelf life of algal biomass depends on the initial amount of bacterial colonies present in the sample and the growth rate of bacteria for the specific bacterial colony. The growth rate of bacteria is directly proportional to the moisture content and temperature. If the initial amount of bacteria is lowered, then the shelf life of the biomass increases, provided that temperature and moisture remain the same.

Algae is a multibillion dollar, fast-growing market. The global market value of microalgal products was estimated to exceed $6 billion in 2004 (Pulz, Gross) and has grown greatly over the past decade. And algae biofuels technologies, valued at only $271 million in 2010, are forecasted to grow to $1.6 billion in 2015.


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