Tharos’ technique differs from that used by the existing suppliers in that it uses no solvents. Existing technologies for the final processing of the ingredient are land-based because it would be both dangerous and impractical to carry large volumes of volatile solvents on board a ship, said Tharos president Dmitri Sclabos.
Tharos has applied for patents on its water-based technology that allows the critical extraction steps to be performed on board, yielding a nutraceutical-grade oil ready for use as soon as the ship reaches port.
“Our goal is to get everything ready on board at sea,” Sclabos told NutraIngredients-USA. “Our process is to generate finer products on board at much lower cost.”
Fast spoiling raw material
This has several advantages, Sclabos said, chief among them dealing with one of the chief problems in working with krill, that being its tendency to spoil quickly.
Krill display high enzymatic activity within their bodies, Sclabos said, which is one of the attributes that helps them thrive in water as cold as 28 degrees F. Once the animals are brought on board, the enzymatic reactions ramp up and the krill begin spoiling almost immediately. Repeated handling, as in moving raw material to shore-based extraction facilities, exacerbates the situation, even if the krill is frozen, Sclabos said. In Tharos’ system, a nutraceutical-grade oil is produced within minutes of the krill leaving the ocean.
And the technology could get around another hurdle in the krill sector, that being the ingredient’s strong odor that so far has prevented its use as a food ingredient, despite much work by the various players in this area (though Aker has made some recent progress).
“Ours will be fresher and nicer and the quality will be more suitable for a food application,” Sclabos said.
The recent on board test follows land-based testing that commenced in 2009, Sclabos said. The company expects to be able to produce ingredients at commercial scale in 2015.
One of the things that has characterized the krill oil sector in recent years has been a long, bloody patent war between Neptune Technologies, the pioneer of krill oil as a nutraceutical ingredient and competitors Aker BioMarine and Enzymotec (and including later entrant Rimfrost). That struggle is all but over with the inking of agreements between Neptune and Aker and Rimfrost. A deal with Enzymotec is reportedly in final negotiation.
But Neptune has made it clear that vigorous defense of its intellectual property is a cornerstone of its corporate strategy. Sclabos said that Tharos does not intent to pick any fights.
“We think that we will have to come to an agreement with Neptune in the markets covered by their patents,” Sclabos said. “We will not fight anyone who holds valid IP.”