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TomAlgae and Liqoflux join forces for better shrimp feed

January 17, 2016

TomAlgae’s large production raceways inside the greenhouse

TomAlgae’s large production raceways inside the greenhouse

Nevele, Belgium-based TomAlgae is developing freeze-dried microalgae for feed in shrimp hatcheries. The company has created its own microalgal “cultivar” and manufactures a lyophilized (freeze-dried) product exceptionally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, both EPA and DHA, proteins and vitamins.

TomAlgae is part of the Benchmark Holdings Group – a collection of innovation companies operating in the aquaculture, agriculture and animal health sectors. Benchmark brings together knowledge of breeding and genetics, vaccines, health products, veterinary science, farming and husbandry – starting with food production.

TomAlgae was founded in August 2013 by experts involved in greenhouse vegetable production. Initially a small laboratory was set up to select and breed a specific strain of microalgae, maintain a culture collection and scale up to production in open ponds in the greenhouses.

The TomAlgae team had good ties with a global player in aquatic animal health who had a strong interest in algae, and various in-Vivo trials were undertaken in target markets in Southeast Asia. The success of these trials gave the company confidence to scale its production to meet the anticipated market demand.

William van der Riet, CEO of TomAlgae (right) with Victor Chepurnov, co-founder, Applications & Development at TomAlgae.

William van der Riet, CEO of TomAlgae (right) with Victor Chepurnov, co-founder, Applications & Development at TomAlgae.

The initial scale-up was a 50-fold production increase, with open raceway ponds inside greenhouses that enable year-round production, and procurement of equipment to compete the crucial downstream (harvesting) process. When sustainable production was obtained, TomAlgae increased it’s production capacity x4 to meet the increased market demand.

TomAlgae’s downstream product consists of a paste, which is subsequently lyophilized to maintain cell integrity and biochemical value, and then packaged in small (20g) sachets. The product is pathogen free. (Live algae are the principal vectors for vibrio and protozoal infections in shrimp production, so converting to TomAlgae’s solution can eliminate this risk.)

Traditionally, algae are grown on-site, where live feed is often unstable, producing unpredictable yields and using a large amount of space that could otherwise be used to grow commercial species. TomAlage offers products that can be stored on-farm and readily prepared into a suspension on site, while maintaining cell integrity and biochemical value – thereby mitigating the risk of seasonal fluctuations in quality and volume.

TomAlgae’s product replaces the need for the live algae currently used in the first three critical phases (Z1-Z3) at shrimp hatcheries. The first application of the product (Z1) is direct feed to shrimp larvae (one of the fastest growing sectors in aquaculture) followed by enrichment for Artemia and rotifers that, in turn, can be fed to fish larvae (indirect application).

The Liqoflux Capillary Algae Pre-Concentration System used in step one of the dewatering process.

The Liqoflux Capillary Algae Pre-Concentration System used in step one of the dewatering process.

Another major step taken was obtaining ISO9001 and GMP+ for feed applications. This enabled TomAlgae to enforce a quality management program at the earliest stage in the growth of the company. These accreditations provide customers with confidence that quality, feed safety and traceability are all at a very high level.

“One of the critical parameters of the product we deliver is that cell integrity is maintained,” said William van der Riet, CEO of TomAlgae. “Our algae cultivar is fully digestible and cultivated to the size and composition required by the target species. In order to maintain the cells intact we have been using the Spiral Plate technology from Evodos in our downstream process. Although technically this does its job perfectly, just adding additional centrifuges to harvest higher volumes is costly.”

“In order to reduce the volume to be harvested by the centrifuge, we looked at different methods for pre-concentration and selected the Liqoflux Capillary Algae Pre-concentration system. After a short test period we asked Turbin, the solution provider of the Liqoflux systems, to deliver our first 10 m3/h unit.”

Two Evodos machines used in step two

Two Evodos machines used in step two

TomAlgae and Liqoflux decided to work together because they were sharing the same vision in harvesting high volumes of algae cultures – where the challenge is to process the quantity in a limited timeframe and, at the same time, optimize the algae harvesting costs. To do this, the two companies developed a two-step algae harvesting approach:

Step 1 – Start with the Liqoflux Capillary Algae Pre-Concentration System to separate the “easy” water and pre-concentrate the algae culture with a factor of 10-20. During the night, two Liqoflux units with a total capacity of 20 m3/h, pre-concentrate the algae culture to a (1) concentrate and (2) water, free from algae cells and bacteria.

Step 2 – To separate the “difficult” water and produce a high dry solid algae paste they use the Evodos Type 25 that, during the day shift, further de-waters the concentrate into a 20% dry solid algae paste. Like all centrifuges, the Evodos does not separate 100% of the algae cells. The effluent of the Evodos 25, which contains the lost algae cells, is re-cycled back to the Liqoflux system. With this process 100% of the biomass is harvested.

The packaged freeze-dried algae product.

The packaged freeze-dried algae product.

The algae paste obtained from the dewatering process is dried in a controlled process to prevent loss of valuable components like Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids and pigments. (During the downstream process, no preservatives are used.) Only the water is evaporated during this drying process, the final moisture content of the product is between 2% and 5%. After drying, the product is packed in the 20g sachets and boxed up for shipping.

“The aquaculture market is growing 6% year on year and we have already passed the mark where the consumption of cultured fish is higher than wild catch,” says William van der Riet. “This has an enormous impact on the sustainability of our oceans and fits well as part of our overall vision to help create a sustainable sector.”

“The biggest lesson we have learned is the strength in combining different technologies to get your desired result,” he says. “We strongly believe that a two-step algae harvesting approach is the way forward when growing the culture volumes of TomAlgae. The key is collaboration and working with partners who provide solutions – not only systems.”

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