The plant will be located in the municipality at the northwestern end of the island of Kyushu, southernmost of the four main islands of Japan. The plant’s location supplies one of the main ingredients for the cultivation of the phototrophic organism Haematococcus pluvialis, that being sunlight.
Sunlight is abundant in Heliae’s home turf, too, in the Sonoran Desert. The company is a spinoff from Arizona State University in nearby Tempe, where research into algae production systems has been underway for decades.
Heliae is starting to deliver on the promise it technology offers. The company designed its hyrbid production technology, which marries aspects of phototrophic and heterotrophic (fermentation-like) algae, in a plug-and-play way so that it can be quickly adapted to new sites and environments and can also be quickly scaled up.
“The real meat of this announcement is that Sincere Corporation had the opportunity to vet all the algae technologies out there, and they chose ours,” Nick Donowitz, director of development for Heliae told NutraIngredients-USA. “This technology is fungible and scalable.”
As far as adapting the technology to new environments is concerned, Kyushu is a good location, Donowitz said.
“Kyushu is definitely not Arizona, but there are adequate solar resources for algae cultivation there,” he said.
The company’s technology, which it calls Volaris, seeks to marry the best aspects of both heterotrophic and phototrophic organisms. The advantages of heterotrophic organisms are their vastly greater rate of growth, Donowitz said. “But then you are beholden to sugar as a feedstock. And you are limited on the scope of product development possible. With phototrophy, there are a lot of benefits, and a lot of optionality, but contamination and slow growth rates hurt facility economics.
“We have identified a hybrid approach. We have lower capital costs than heterotrophy and dramatically better optionality. As compared to phototrophy, our capital costs are similar but our growth rates are orders of magnitude better,” Donowitz said in an earlier interview about the scale up of its Arizona facility.
Demand for astaxanthin has been growing by leaps and bounds, but could have grown more quickly. Rather than having any concern about having missed the boat, Donowitz said the sector is poised for even stronger growth.
“The thing that has been holding back astaxanthin has simply been a lack of supply for natural astaxanthin. Demand for natural astaxanthin has been strong. We are an ingredient supplier and from our perspective this is a premium product and there are additional opportunities for growth out there,” he said.