May 07, 2013

Algae researchers partner to create health products

Posted: May 07, 2013
Algae photobioractors at AzCATI
Algae photobioreactors soak in the desert sun at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University. The center leads the national algae research collaborative, the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership.
Photo by: Tom Story

The Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) at Arizona State University and the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) are working with Health Enhancement Products, Inc (HEPI). to advance the science behind algae-based health and wellness products like vitamins and food chemicals.

HEPI, headquartered in Michigan, investigates and licenses high-value bioactive molecules derived from algae that benefit human and animal health.

AzCATI serves as a national testbed for research, testing and commercialization of algae-based products – including biofuels, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and other algae biomass co-products. Located on the ASU Polytechnic campus, the center provides open test and evaluation facilities for the algae industry and research community. The center can assess the performance of individual and combined unit operations across the algal value chain. AzCATI is embedded within ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation and is part of the LightWorks initiative, supported by ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

AzCATI leads the ATP3 consortium with support from national labs and academic and industrial partners including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Sandia National Laboratories, Cellana LLC, Touchstone Research Laboratory, Valicor Renewables, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Commercial Algae Management. 

ATP3 is funded by a competitive grant from the Bioenergy Technologies Office within the U.S. Department of Energy. The ATP3 collaborative is a network of regional test-beds designed to empower knowledge creation and dissemination within the algal research community, accelerate innovation, and support growth of the nascent algal fuels industry.  

For many years, algal technology has focused on lipids such as DHA and EPA for health applications, and on oils for use as biofuels. To date, only a handful of high-value bioactives are farmed from algae, astaxanthin in particular, and affordable biofuel remains elusive. After a decade of sustained investment and scientific progress, a wealth of technology and expertise has been created. That expertise is perfectly positioned to vault algae to the forefront of high-value bioactive production.

HEPI, realizing that algae is an optimal platform for developing high-value bioactive molecules, established a grow and test facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., that for the past several years has been developing unique, proprietary algae-derived substances. Many of those substances have been studied to confirm safety and health benefits before being licensed to manufacturers. Once those substances were isolated and validated, the Scottsdale facility was relegated to research feedstock production. The newly formed relationship with AzCATI has rendered the Company’s internal grow facility redundant, and it has been closed as of April 30, 2013. The company’s proprietary cultures were transferred to AzCATI, and representative samples have been sent to one of the ATP3 partners, the University of Texas at Austin, for cryogenic preservation. Viable cultures have also been transferred to the National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota (NCMA) for metabolic studies. The NCMA is a research institute organized under the auspices of the Bigelow Laboratories, located in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

“These partnerships give us access to world-class algae experts and facilities,” said HEPI CEO Andrew Dahl. “Moving the cultures to the AzCATI/ ATP3 site and to the NCMA labs opens up a vastly broader range of  scientific  capabilities and expertise and provides access to a  tremendous network of development and production partners all while realizing substantial cost savings. The AzCATI/ATP3 partnership in particular helps us accelerate the process of going to market.”

“There are a several key steps in the algae value chain that build on AzCATI’s work in biofuel development. Scaling up production for HEPI in a commercially viable manner is the sort of activity that we are equipped to do here; assisting companies in bringing their product to market on a larger scale,” said Thomas A. Dempster, a research associate professor at ASU’s AzCATI and the ATP3 testbed site coordinator. “The unique substances that HEPI has already isolated have tremendous potential, and we look forward to working with HEPI in moving their process forward.”

Sarah Mason, sarahmason@asu.edu
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