Microalgae start-up rolls out industrial-scale production after ‘influx of demand’
Yemoja, which was founded three years ago by a team of marine biology and biotech experts, cultivates microalgae customized to fit functional food, nutraceutical or cosmetic applications.
Microalgae is gaining significant attention as a potential future new food source. The startup set up its first pilot facility in 2017. Following a series of successful proof-of-concept trials in 2018 and a fruitful seed round, Yemoja decided last year to move on to the next phase of opening its first fully fledged manufacturing plant.
It said it has already has brought production up to speed at the plant, based in the Upper Galilee region of Israel, to meet the new volume of orders for its range of algae species emanating predominantly from the global nutraceutical and cosmeceutical sectors.
“Currently we grow Porphyridium cruentum for cosmetics applications and Phaeodactylum for nutrition applications,” Erez Ashkenazi, COO and Co-Founder of Yemoja, told FoodNavigator. “Later this year, we are planning to grow Dunaliella bardawil which can be used for both for cosmetics and nutrition applications.”
Also in the pipeline are baby foods and sport nutrition applications. “We have the capacity to serve our sales projection for the next 12 months, and we are planning to double out the capacity mid- 2021, and will increase the capacity again in late 2022,” the CEO revealed.
Ashkenazi said the plant has a minimal footprint, a fact which it hopes will appeal to manufacturers keen to tap into microalgae’s sustainable credentials.
“We use less land, less water for cooling, we recycle our own water,” Ashkenazi added. “We have built a ‘green’ factory in which we can create and maintain the ultimate conditions for any known microalgae species, yet with zero dependence on external environment and weather. Our indoor system generates exceptional yields with proven reproducibility on a very small plot of land and using minimal resources.”
Meanwhile, producing indoors as opposed to at sea, allows for greater efficiency. “With our advanced technology we can mimic the algae natural needs, and by producing indoor, we can be much more precise with any parameter control and optimisation,” he said. “An indoor facility allows us, to create a diverse portfolio of products as we have no dependency in any climate or weather conditions whatsoever, and all with the highest production standard.”
This ‘advanced technology’ centres around a high precision, fast-track photobioreactor, which Yemoja reckons sets a ‘new gold standard for microalgae production and sustainability’.
“Indoor cultivation operates in a next-gen, closed, contaminant-free system that maintains absolute control of key parameters such as temperature, pH, light, and CO2 emissions with capabilities to produce a broad spectrum of pure algae and in a very tightly controlled environment,” it explained.
Yemoja operates a small batch production line structured in an arrangement of vertical luminescent columns. Each column is allocated a specific algae species, is completely closed off and isolated from other units to prevent any cross contamination. This facilitates the simultaneous and continuous production of a variety of algae-derived products for Yemoja’s customers, while maintaining individualized control irrespective of batch volume.
“Our unique site runs on recycled water and minimal energy. The exploitation of artificial light for photosynthesis limits the need for cooling,” added Ashkenazi. “We meticulously designed the site to meet to the highest standards of operational efficiency in order to minimize environmental impact leaving only a tiny carbon footprint. Our specialty ingredients are cultivated in a chemical-free, all-natural process, with a full respect of our natural habitat.”
Algae and gut health
Yemoja has also teamed up with the Migal Galilee Research Institute to work on a project aiming to find a molecule sourced from microalgae, as a food supplement application, that can support bowel disease.
This project – part of EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative which funds R&I programmes in the region -- was last month given the green light to enter its next phase of development.
“The bio availability of some microalgae can be highly bioactive in treatment and relieving the symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis,” claimed Ashkenazi. “The microalgae extract contains many anti-inflammatory agents and already been proven as effective against the above conditions in the lab.”