Aqua Spark invests in algae-derived astaxanthin producer

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© Kuehnle AgroSystems
© Kuehnle AgroSystems

Related tags Algae Salmon Aquaculture shrimp astaxanthin

Hawaii-based microalgae company, Kuehnle AgroSystems (KAS), has closed a Series A funding round with new investor, Aqua Spark.

The firm has a patented platform process for the sustainable fermentation production of multiple economically relevant algae. For its lead product, this process is combined with its non-GM strain of Haematococcus pluvialis​ to enable it to produce “high levels of astaxanthin, affordably and at scale.”

Astaxanthin is commonly used as a pigment and antioxidant in feed for salmonids and shrimp, as well as a highly potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory product with many documented health benefits in human nutraceuticals. Synthetic astaxanthin, which is produced from petroleum sources, is the most common additive but there is a huge market for natural astaxanthin, said KAS. 

Dr Claude Kaplan, CEO of KAS, said the company’s manufacturing process uses algae to produce astaxanthin in an identical form and structure to the astaxanthin that fish and shrimp would consume in the wild. 

Weighing in on that, Aqua-Spark said producing salmonids fed with algae-derived astaxanthin “will not only improve their health but also help to shift consumer perception of the farmed species.”

Amy Novogratz, co-founder of that Dutch sustainable aquaculture fund, would did not disclose the value of the investment but she told us the funds will be used to scale up astaxanthin production to industrial levels with KAS’ manufacturing partner; they will also be used to support further field trials of KAS’s products and to fund an algal strain improvement program at the company’s R&D facility.

KAS previously participated in an accelerator program through Hatch, another investment within Aqua-Spark's portfolio.

Production volumes

The US producer will see commercial scale output of its astaxanthin product get underway in the second half of 2022. In terms of likely production volumes, it currently has available manufacturing capacity for 2MT of astaxanthin per year, which the CEO said the business plans to expand as it scales up.

And the technology, said Dr Heidi Kuehnle, CTO and co-founder of KAS, has the potential to revolutionize algae production for pigments and protein by not only slashing operational cost, cropping time, and water footprint today but, with the potential, in the future, for recycling the gas generated during fermentation to produce feedstock to be fed back into the fermentation process.

When asked whether human nutraceuticals would be a more lucrative market for KAS, compared to aqua feed, Kaplan said that both markets have their strengths and complement each other.

“The human nutraceuticals market is highly accessible and potentially highly profitable for us, while the salmonids and shrimp segments offers very large growing markets where KAS’ technology will be a ground-breaking solution.”

KAS has developed a number of different algal products for the aqua feed, human feed, nutraceuticals and cosmetics markets. “Some of these products have been or are currently being trialed with our partners.”

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