‘Turning a challenge into a profit': the start-up converting Co2 into algae

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

‘Turning a challenge into a profit': the start-up converting Co2 into algae

Related tags microalgae Carbon

FoodNavigator catches up with Denmark’s Algiecel, which wants to make it easy for companies to remove C02 from industrial processes and turn it into algae-based derivative products for food production.

In the hope of solving the challenge of converting the CO2 emissions of today’s production methods into feasible business opportunities, Algiecel is aiming to help its clients easily remove millions of tonnes of CO2 annually from industrial production without hurting their bottom lines.

The CO2 will be turned into high-value products such as omega-3 oils and protein, and omega-3-rich biomass which can be applied in the food industry as well as feed and cosmetics (novel food approval will be needed).

Algiecel Founder and CEO Henrik Busch-Larsen is the former CEO of Unibio, which makes animal feed from protein derived from microbial fermentation. In this role he was often approached by companies pitching to take Unibio’s CO2 and convert into various products, some of which were algae-based.

It was a task he decided to take on himself and Algiecel was thus born in 2021 to take part in solving the challenge of converting CO2 emissions into feasible business opportunities.

The company has developed a plug and play microalgae photobioreactor that is fitted into standard 40-foot shipping containers. The photobioreactor will capture CO2 emissions continuously and transform it using LED light via photosynthesis into microalgae biomass.

According to the company, the reactors enable the easy transformation of industrial CO2 emissions into algae-based derivative products. These might include meat and fish alternatives, as an ingredient to enrich infant formula.

“The entire concept is built on carbon capture as a service, building a super compact photobioreactor applying microalgae, photosynthesis and basically the ways of nature to convert CO2 into algae-based derivatives,” Busch-Larsen explained. “The concept is built on us converting the C02 to the derivative products. We will sell the products and the carbon credits and share revenue this with the client, thus allowing them to convert what is today a CO2 challenge into a CO2 resource making a profit on C02 in the future.” 

Massive power-to-x projects require a lot of CO2, space for installations, and a lot of capital. But no real feasible solutions exist today to address this challenge for small and mid-sized companies, he claimed.

The company’s target market for its patent-pending technology is therefore “the smaller medium sized ones where can set up between 10 and 30 containers and then convert that C02 into useful products,” he told FoodNavigator.  

"We are prioritising the biogas sector and fermentation sectors. We have around 18,000 biogas plants in Europe today. The ambition is to double the capacity within the next few years. That would leave us with a lot of additional CO2 being admitted from the biogas space.” Algiecel therefore hopes to capitalise on rising demand for carbon capture solutions from these smaller companies.

"We are experiencing a huge interest for technologies that can convert that CO2 challenge into an opportunity. We are proving an extra income stream for the biogas producers. We are currently building a pipeline of potential clients and right now the immediate focus is to convert one or two of those potential clients into demonstration-scale projects."

Another selling point is that the technology is a mobile plug & play solution, which means that the containers can be stacked and packed, and little technical know-how is required from the client’s side.

algiecel container 1
Algiecel uses natural microalgae organisms, a compact and high-yield photobioreactor technology fitted into shipping containers and a revenue-sharing business model to offer carbon capture as a service to industrial clients in the biogas and fermentation sectors. The containers convert that C02 into algae-based derivative products 

Elaborating on potential food industry uses, drying algae and extracting algae oils are well-known production methods, Busch-Larsen explained. “These oils can be applied in soft capsules together with mixed ingredients for dietary supplements. The market for sustainable vegan products in that sector is growing and algae oil is a very high value ingredient here, due to the high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, i.e. omega-3. Also the algae powder is of high value in the food sector since it is rich in food-grade vitamins, minerals and carotenoids such as astaxanthin and lutein. There are many possibilities for use of the oil and the powder. If one chooses to extract the oil or powder with a focus on specific nutrients in a food-related application, the raw material price increases significantly.

“Regardless of the actual application, when we talk about algae oil and powder produced by Algiecel then we are talking about high value and lower volume. These products will not be a replacement for low value and high-volume saturated fats such as palm oil, but rather an addition with a very high nutritional value targeted at specific purposes.”

Algiecel has just raised DKK 10m (EUR 1.3m) in combined funding from Denmark’s Export and Investment Fund, a UK-based family fund and private individuals. The start-up is also supported by the BioInnovation Institute, a Danish accelerator. With the newly raised funds Algiecel’s focus will move from pilot operations only into completing the full-scale design as well as initiating algae-product application trials with potential clients.

"We are sort of a nexus between the energy space and the food space,” added Busch-Larsen. "There's huge opportunity for technologies that can lessen the stress on the world's eco-systems and he potential for technologies that can de-cobble the production of proteins and other products from the farming system hold a huge potential.”

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