Globally, health-minded consumers are seeking out carotenoids as part of their dietary supplement regimen; according to a 2015 market research report composed by ReportsnReports.com, the value of the worldwide carotenoids industry is forecast to reach approximately $1.4 billion by 2019. Astaxanthin (from the alga Haematococcus pluvialis) is growing in use and in demand, as more individuals recognize its health benefits.
Sustainability of astaxanthin, therefore, is a key consideration; without sufficient algae cultivation on a renewable basis, the costs will skyrocket and the ability to innovate new supplements, foods and beverages will be hampered.
Sustainability is important because it shows the quality and care of the product you are buying. If a business is investing into a product, knowing that the product purchased was developed in a sustainable way shows the hallmarks of responsible environmental stewardship likely to correlate with product quality and traceability.
When purchasing natural astaxanthin, this translates to minimizing material and energy waste. Natural astaxanthin comes from an algal crop, and astaxanthin production can be thought of as farming. The growing and farming of algae can be done in a variety of ways, including outdoor raceways, outdoor closed tube systems, or indoor photobioreactors. Factors to consider include the geographic footprint of the facility, the energy source being used to power the plant, and the efficiency of the cultivation equipment (for example, water requirements and loss due evaporation, cleaning etc.)
As astaxanthin is cultivated from an alga, the environmental footprint of the production is small in some cases. Outdoor cultivation may require tens of acres of land and, in some cases, involve losing water to evaporation and risking contamination from the weather, bugs, animals or pollutants.
Responsible ingredient suppliers take steps to improve efficiency and minimize waste. AstaReal, for example, uses renewable hydroelectric power from the Columbia River at its production facility in Moses Lake. AstaReal’s manufacturing facility also has a small physical footprint because algae are grown in indoor tanks that contribute to an efficient use of space, minimize water loss from evaporation and environmental contamination at the same time. So, the same steps that lead to more sustainable production also contribute to the quality of AstaReal® Astaxanthin products.
To meet the demand we saw booming in the 1990s, we developed a sophisticated technology of microalgae cultivation using specially designed photobioreactors to cultivate H. pluvialis; our first indoor production facility was established in Gustavsberg, Sweden, where we became the first company to commercially produce natural astaxanthin from microalgae. As such, we have been able to supply increased numbers of brand marketers that themselves are supplying more consumers who are regularly purchasing their astaxanthin-containing products.
The cultivation process starts in the laboratory, where a seed culture is cultivated under sterile conditions to provide a pure culture. The culture is enriched with essential nutrients and light that allows for optimal growth and proliferation (green phase). When the culture reaches its optimal density in the green phase, it is transferred to unique stainless steel photobioreactors where the production of astaxanthin (red phase) is initiated. After the algae have reached maturity, they are harvested, crushed and dried. The final biomass is a deep-red powder of high purity, containing a high concentration of astaxanthin. The biomass can be further refined to produce a range of bulk products that are suitable for different formats and formulations.
Our photobioreactors have been specifically designed to allow for optimal maturation of the cells. Thus, we are able ensure hygienic conditions and an environment that allows the culture to reach unsurpassed levels of maturity. The result is superior natural astaxanthin products with the highest quality, stability and concentration available in the market.
Growth continued unabated, necessitating higher production, so we constructed a new manufacturing facility in 2014, in Moses Lake Washington, which also utilizes the photobioreactor system. As a result, our production capacity has tripled, allowing us to consistently meet the ever-increasing global demand for superior, natural astaxanthin.
Karen Hecht, Ph.D., is scientific affairs manager for AstaReal USA, based in Moses Lake, Washington.