2014 YIR Part 1 — Algae Turns up Everywhere

So what happened in the world of algae over the past year? While to many this question might conjure up images of algae-bloomed beaches, Toledo’s toxic water curse of the summer, or maybe just a thought that the concept of algal biofuel has gone bye bye in the wake of cheap oil.

But our readers know that there’s much more to the algae story and, in fact, 2014 was a year of amazing growth and breakthrough for algae’s advancement around the world. Algal oil for fuel may not have been the driving force it once was, but research and diversification have pushed through barriers in human and animal health, foods, feeds, and personal care products. Algae has exploded as a health supplement and has shown promise in many areas of medicine.

2014 witnessed new operations spring up to make paper and plastic from algae. And significant grassroots and governmental support developed in 2014 for carbon capture, utilizing algae to lighten our footprint on the planet.

Algae was doing just about everything other than produce fuel in this year of plunging oil prices. We saw algae help to clean up the radioactive spill in Fukashima, reclaim polluted water in abandoned mines in England, and help clear the air of smokestack CO2 at a growing number of powerplants and industrial settings.

Much of the attention algae received in 2014 was in regards to advancements in human and animal health. The strongest growth areas were in the development and marketing of Omega-3 EPA/DHA, spirulina, and astaxanthin.

Algix, in Marion, Miss., opened a new state-of-the-art facility to convert algae into bioplastic.

Algix, in Marion, Miss., opened a new state-of-the-art facility to convert algae into bioplastic.

Many new projects sprung up around the world cultivating spirulina as a superfood to fight malnutrition. New research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information demonstrated spirulina to benefit HIV-infected adult women, and another high-level study showed spirulina to be significantly effective in controlling the spread of pancreatic cancer cells.

Omega-3 was embraced by both the public and many of the leading algal companies, as a pivot from fuel production. Research into Omega-3’s benefits have been widely known for years, and this year added further benefits to the list. Worldwide, consumption of omega-3 was estimated at to be 134.7 thousand metric tons currently, and by 2020 was projected to reach 241 thousand metric tons, with a value of US $4.96 billion.

Other algal research showed that Chlorella proved effective in lowering serum cholesterol, and that Alaskan seaweed could offer protection against conditions including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Michigan State University researchers discovered that a protein in algae could possibly enable early cancer detection and prevention.

Quite a bit of research centered around algae’s properties to improve animal health. The
 de-fatted biomass of microalgal species, derived from biofuel production research, proved feasible in replacing corn and soybean meal in many animal diets. Supplementing algae into chicken diets produced meat that was healthier than that of chickens raised on traditional diets without algae.

Don Smith, of Colorado-based Omega3Beef, supplements his cattle feed with algae.

Don Smith, of Colorado-based Omega3Beef, supplements his cattle feed with algae.

Omega3Beef debuted the results of its innovative, all-natural cattle feed, supplemented with algal-based omega-3 levels similar to those found in halibut or mahi mahi. New research in Australia also showed improved consumer health benefits can be gained from grain-fed lambs by adding marine algae to their diet.

Scientists in 2014 also demonstrated that an algae-based anti-viral drug could cure horses of equine herpes virus-1. The mounting research and product development for algae in animal feed was strong during the year, with agricultural specialist Olmix launched a new product called MFeed+ to boost the value of animal feed by optimizing digestion using a unique combination of seaweed extracts. Animal feed giant Alltech developed SP1 – a safe, DHA-rich algae product fed directly to fish, poultry and cattle, which can allow the commodities of meat, eggs, and milk to be transformed into value-added, DHA-enriched functional foods.

Next we’ll look at how the industry’s major companies survived, thrived, or took a dive in the year that fuel made a U-turn.

Next: Part 2 – The Companies Driving the Industry