We caught up with Becky Timmons, Alltech’s global director of applications research and quality assurance and technical director of Alltech Algae, during the company's annual conference in Kentucky to hear about the work being done with algae as an aquaculture feed ingredient at its algae facility located nearby, in Winchester.
“If you look at production of fish oil it is pretty stagnate right, around a million tons a year, depending on weather conditions and things, so that’s all there is, and as much as is produced each year is used,” she told FeedNavigator. “That is going more and more into human nutrition and that means there’s less and less to go for aquaculture.”
In addition to less fish meal or fish oil being available, the aquaculture industry is growing, she said, so demand is higher than it has been in the past.
Many feed producers have turned to plant-based oils and proteins to replace the meal or oil, said Timmons. But she said a gap remains between the nutritional content in fish meal and oil and vegetable-based alternatives. Alltech, she said, has been working to close that gap with an algae-derived product.
“Fish oil is the big one for us right now and we’re doing a lot of work with increasing levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and decreasing cost, because we want to be competitive,” said Timmons. “They [fish or feed producers] are not going to pay more for it and we want it to be more stable [in terms of pricing] than fish oil.”
The R&D has developed a product with 16-18% DHA that can be added as an ingredient before a feed is processed rather than adding it at the end or spraying it on, she said.
Although Alltech has experimented with other methods of production, the company continues to grow its algae using a heterotropic method, or in vats, because it allows for better control of conditions and for a more efficient process, said Timmons. The method mimics conditions that the plant might face if it were growing well under the surface of water.
Most of the work centered on algae as a fish feed ingredient has been aimed at feeds for carnivorous fish, said Timmons. However, the feed ingredient may also benefit other types of fish, she noted.
“You can feed it to tilapia and get uptake of DHA, which gives you the opportunity for a branded tilapia and one to say that it has some health benefits,” she said. “It’s always been considered one that tastes good, but doesn’t bring a lot to the table, and this gives you the opportunity to do a branded [product] with a DHA claim.”
After upgrades to dryers, the company can currently produce about 10,000-14,000 tons of the algae meal, said Timmons. However, it is looking at ways to scale up production in the near future.
“For replacing very large amounts then you’d be talking about scaling up even further or producing in other regions,” she said.
The algae product is current being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she said.