Before algae ever takes the petroleum out of gasoline, it may take the herring out of fish oil or the soy out of chicken feed.
Although the energy market remains the ultimate prize for algae producers, many across the country and in Rhode Island are taking advantage of the nonfuel uses of the little, green organism’s oils and proteins to raise capital and ramp up production.
In June, Portsmouth-based BioProcess Algae LLC announced an agreement to supply Swiss pharmaceutical company Bioseutica BV’s KD Pharma division with microalgal oils for conversion into concentrated Omega-3 fatty acid, a nutraceutical staple.
The deal is an example of how BioProcess Algae, which was spun off of Portsmouth dairy-waste purification company BioProcess H2O, is diversifying into markets outside of fuel.
“We are working on fuels, but we think it is a 10-year process to get to fuels that are competitive cost-wise,” said Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae. “This will help us get acres [of algae production] on the ground and then hopefully with scale, we can ride the cost-curve down.”
Although based in Rhode Island, BioProcess makes its algae at a grower-bioreactor outside a Green Plains Renewable Energy ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa.
The BioProcess facility has been running as a demonstration project at the plant since 2005 and in February broke ground on the first 5-acre, commercial-scale harvester.
Like other algae-producers, BioProcess captures the carbon dioxide that comes out of the ethanol-refining process and feeds it to hungry algae.
In addition to the ethanol plant, BioProcess also has an algae farm at an undisclosed oil refinery somewhere in the country and the technology can be employed at any facility that produces carbon dioxide, including steel and cement factories, Burns said.
As the algae industry has matured, Burns said it has become apparent just how large the nonfuel market for the organisms, which are high in protein and oils, could be going forward.