When people talk about eating healthier, one typically thinks about adding more ‘green’ to their diet and this added ‘green’ would traditionally come in the form of vegetables. However, with a recent development pioneered by the algae company Solazyme, adding more ‘green’ has taken on a new meaning.
Jonathan Wolfson, the CEO and co-founder of Solazyme, explained that their algae fermentation process allows the company to take a wide variety of inedible biomass and feed it to the algae to produce something healthy and edible.
“We can actually feed the algae switchgrass grown on a prairie, which is not edible and it’s not arable land, and we can have [the algae] produce edible products,” Wolfson said.
Wolfson explained that Solazyme first looked into developing an oil much like olive oil that could be extracted from algae. The oil they developed ended up having a lipid profile very similar to olive oil except healthier and with less saturated fat. Additionally, this oil could be used as a frying oil due to its high smoke point, much unlike olive oil.
After successfully developing the edible oil, the company also created algal flours that can be used much in the same way traditional flour is used, except with added health benefits. For example, these flours can sometimes replace the eggs, oils, and butter used in recipes. Additionally, the use of these algal flours can sometimes reduce the fat and calorie content in foods by up to 75% and 50% respectively.
Reducing calories and fats are not the only health benefits these edible algal products offer. These products can also be a good source of dietary fiber, carotenoids like beta-carotene, sterols, and many micronutrients like those found in multivitamins.
According to a Seed Science study, algae fermentation technology, like the kind Solazyme uses, has the highest potential for commercial production in the near-term. But while economically feasible production may still be a couple years off, Solazyme’s technology can currently produce algal food products at comparable prices.
“We can already produce [algal food products] competitively with a lot of large scale food ingredient products,” Wolfson explained.
One thing to point out is that their algal food production is not an algae biofuel ‘co-product’, a product that can be produced from the same algae as the fuel. The algae used for food is a completely different species than the ones used for fuel. Therefore, the production operations will be separate even though both use the same basic fermentation technology.
While Solazyme’s algal food operations are separate from the fuel, the development of this sector could be very beneficial for the whole biofuel field. With their successful demonstration of food development, algae companies can perfect the algal growth systems while producing a commercial product. Developing successful algae growth systems for food can then be co-opted into growing algae for fuel.
And developing a commercially viable algae fuel is still at the top of Solazyme's priority list, and commercially viable, in Mr. Wolfson's opinion, means no subsidies.
“The [algae] biofuels production won’t need subsidies,” Wolfson stated, “If it’s not competitive with petroleum then it’s not going to be a commercialized product.”
Overall, Solazyme’s successes in the algal food arena will not only give the world another source of healthy foods but could also lead to improved and commercially viable algae growth systems that can be used to produce algae biofuels.
Jonathan Williams is a conservative blogger at www.BlatantReality.com and www.SCStatehouseBlog.com. He is also the founder and current president of the nonprofit organization Need by Need, Inc. He can be reached at Jon@BlatantReality.com.
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