Enabling commercial production of omega-3 oils from algae

Enabling commercial production of omega-3 oils from algae

February 2018

LabXero, the acoustic particle filtration technology company, has appointed 42T to help develop pilot-scale biomanufacturing equipment. This could significantly reduce the costs of commercial-scale production of high grade omega-3 oils from microalgae.

Omega-3 oils offer multiple health benefits but are traditionally extracted from fish. This makes them unsuitable for vegetarian diets as well as impacting fish stocks.

The Challenges

The key challenge of using microalgae as an alternative source of omega-3 oils is the difficulty and high cost associated with separating out the algal biomass from its watery culture medium. Membrane filters tend to get clogged. Also, most manufacturers have to resort to the use of energy intensive and expensive continuous flow centrifugation techniques.

ProFlow end of photostage

To address this, LabXero has set up a new consortium (called ProFlow) to help scale-up its novel acoustic cell harvesting technology as a low cost and more energy-efficient way to harvest and extract the contents of farmed microalgae. Acoustic technology could significantly reduce downstream processing costs which currently account for a large proportion of total processing costs.

Processing costs are one of the biggest challenges in the successful commercialisation of a number of biomanufacturing processes. The ProFlow consortium has also recently secured an Innovate UK grant of almost £630,000 to help support its planned two year development programme.

Other project partners

  • AlgaeCytes which has the UK’s largest indoor algal photobioreactor and uses its own specific strains of freshwater algae to produce a variety of omega-3 oils
  • The University of Cambridge including the Acoustic Wave Physics Group at Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the Institute for Manufacturing, and the Department of Physics. Together, they offer world-leading expertise in acoustic technologies and developing process technology for large-scale biomanufacturing
  • Unilever for assistance with commercial exploitation

What we did

42 Technology’s role includes helping with the design, development and build of commercial-scale cell harvesting and separation equipment that builds on the prototype developed by LabXero and the Acoustic Wave Physics Group at the University of Cambridge. The company will also help integrate key bioprocessing steps, and support delivering a complete prototype manufacturing process. This will mean from initial algal cultivation through to component extraction – in readiness for testing and commercial exploitation.

42 Technology was specifically appointed by LabXero because of its in-depth experience in fluid handling and control. Additionally, our track record in helping companies to take innovative new technologies through to successful commercial manufacture. The ProFlow project is focused initially on the microalgal sector. But it could also help to cut downstream processing costs and deliver new manufacturing efficiencies for a range of high-value bioproducts including cell and gene therapies, other biotherapeutics and agricultural products.

Dr Devaki Bhatta, managing director of LabXero

Algae harvesting offers a more sustainable and flexible production process for omega-3 oils. This results in a higher quality, premium product when compared with extraction from fish. Using algae avoids the risk of accidental human exposure to trace heavy metals, a known issue for fish oil-derived supplements. It also allows manufacturers to vary the EPA:DHA omega-3 oil ratios for utilisation in different formulations.

Photobioreactor at AlgaeCytes
The new photobioreactor at AlgaeCytes will be used by 42T and other ProFlow consortium partners. The 1,000 litre algal seed reactor (shown right) is used to innoculate the photobioreactor. It is then illuminated with the red and blue parts of the visible spectrum to maximise light absorption by the algae.

Images courtesy of AlgaeCytes

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