Products for health, nutrition, personal care, agriculture, specialty chemicals, energy – it seems there’s no end to what humble algae can provide. Yet while algae continues to thrive in the natural world quietly providing us with a wide range of beneficial eco products and services, it hasn’t been so easy to replicate that and build a cost effective industrial-scale manufacturing platform.
However, with the backing of a close-knit group of investors, including several members of the Mars family, the team at Heliae have been quietly yet steadfastly working to do just that.
Heliae on July 9 announced it had raised $28.4 million of investment capital, funding that it will use to support and expand the operations of its first commercial production facility in its hometown of Gilbert, Arizona. Backing Heliae’s bid to commercialize its Volaris algae-based production platform, Agri Investments Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of the Southeast Asia-based Salim Group, along with members of the Mars family and private investor Thomas J. Edelman, were among the existing and new investors to commit capital.
Developing A Commercial-Scale Algae Production Platform
The unicelluar strains of algae that Heliae cultivates, mass produces, and extracts a wide range of useful products from, are among the simplest of living organisms. The process and technology associated with doing all this is not. It entails cultivating pure, isolated strains of Heliae algae, mass production, contamination control, harvesting, and product extraction. According to the company;
Heliae has fostered a culture of innovation that’s resulted in the development of “advanced algae strains, production technology, and downstream processing equipment to optimize algae production for a range of product targets.
Heliae’s Volaris production platform makes use of both sunlight and low-cost carbon feedstocks to optimize algae production. This mixotrophic production process lowers operating and capital costs and reduces contamination while increasing productivity and the flexibility to produce a variety of end products at the same time, the company says.
Heliae and its backers are ready to put this to the test with the construction of its first commercial production facility. The facility is being built in two phases in accordance “with customer supply agreements already in place,” and is expected to be up and running this September, according to Heliae’s press release.
With the ability to tailor the Volaris production platform for specific algae strains and target products, Heliae’s commercial facility will showcase flexibility to produce a range of products and ingredients for multiple markets on one site.
These include nutrition, therapeutics, agroscience, health and beauty, and specialty chemicals and fuels.
Phase1 of the construction will enable Helia to deliver “a high-value nutraceutical product, derived from a strain that demands high light conditions.” Phase 2’s target is to deliver a personal care product with a strain that necessitates lower light conditions.
“With our first commercial plant coming on line and this latest round of funding, the company is on track to deliver high-quality, algae-based products to the therapeutic, nutraceutical, agroscience and personal care industries,” Heliae co-founder and chairman of the board Frank Mars was quoted as saying. “Heliae is delivering against our mission to advance the future of algae.”
Algae’s Promise Continues To Attract Investors
Research and development of algae-based production systems has attracted a lot of interest on the part of investors and the US government, particularly when it comes to developing algae-based biofuels and CleanTechnica has been covering the sector.
In March, Tina Casey reported on the efforts of the United Arab Emirates’ Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which is working to develop algae production facilities to transition out of dependency on petroleum and into a more diverse economic model based on exporting algae biofuel, aviation and jet fuels in particular.
Back in October 2012, yours truly reported on Aurora Algae’s work at the food–water–energy nexus. Working toward commercializing research and development work begun at the University of California, Berkeley in 2006, Aurora Algae developing a commercial-scale, algae-based biomass production facility at a pilot demonstration site in Karratha, Western Australia.
And right in Heliae’s “backyard,” the Department of Energy last September awarded a $15 million grant to establish the first national biofuel testbed in the country in Arizona.