Enough fish in the sea?

Omega-3s are important for public health, but can supply meet demand, asks David Hart, VP Marketing, Qualitas Health

Valued at US$25bn in 2011 and estimated to balloon to $37.7bn by 2016, omega-3s represent a large category in the functional food sector. The health benefits of omega-3s are so well established that it is now mainly a function of having enough supply to meet the global demand.

GOED, the global organisation for EPA and DHA omega-3s, estimates that the World Health Organisation’s recommended omega-3 intake of 250mg/day requires approximately 650,000 metric tonnes of EPA/DHA, but the current ocean capacity is only 530,000 metric tonnes! When taking into account higher dosages of omega-3s from emerging research and public health recommendations, this supply gap widens further.

Algae: the sustainable solution

When it comes to satisfying the growing needs for omega-3s worldwide, Qualitas Health is betting on one of the world’s smallest and most ancient life forms: algae. Qualitas Health’s founder and chief technology officer, Dr Isaac Berzin, saw the potential of algae as the most promising source of the important LC-PUFA omega-3s, and envisioned the development of sustainable microalgae farming and harvesting methods for omega-3s.

So while most other omega-3 manufacturers were sailing the seas, hauling in bulging nets of fish and krill, Qualitas Health set up shop on 350 acres of dusty, non-arable land among the scrub brush and oil wells of West Texas. Testing its new 'alga-culture' farming system in the bright Texas sun, the Qualitas team nurtured the original source of omega-3 — a natural, non-GMO strain of microalgae that’s rich in EPA and polar lipids (phospholipids and glycolipids) and is the source of its omega-3 ingredient, Almega PL.

Highly sustainable growth processes

Almega PL is a vegetarian substitute to krill oil that offers a sustainable and 'green' alternative for the future. The algae for Almega PL are grown in open ponds on non-arable lands, using solar energy as the main energy input and creating value from non-usable resources. The open pond structure captures renewable solar power through photosynthesis — the primal reaction from which life on Earth was created. Using natural sunlight as the primary energy input, the farm consumes carbon dioxide (CO2), thereby mitigating global-warming intensifying greenhouse emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. As part of the photosynthesis process, the algae release life-sustaining oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere.

As part of the photosynthesis process, the algae release life-sustaining oxygen into the atmosphere

The process is fresh-water neutral, utilising the brackish Cenozoic Pecos Alluvium Aquifer — water that is so salty it cannot be used for drinking, agriculture or industry. But it’s perfect for growing marine-sourced algae.

A gentle, hexane-free, wet-oil extraction process is used. Most extraction processes first dry the algae, which requires considerable energy. Wet oil extraction employs a patented technology that extracts the oil from the algae without drying it, helping to maintain a low energy footprint. Algae are harvested daily. Part of the unique process created by Qualitas is the ability and know-how to maintain the algae at exponential growth rates, during which the biomass doubles every week, providing a renewable source of algae and omega-3s.

This proprietary production process doesn’t generate any harmful waste products, and co-products are used for animal feed, resulting in minimal waste. A modular design makes production easily scalable, with the potential for nearly unlimited expansion.

As Almega PL and additional nutrition ingredients from algae make their debut around the world, Qualitas Health’s dream of developing renewable, sustainable sources of omega-3s is coming to fruition. The company’s belief in the power of one of the world’s smallest and most ancient life forms is promising to bring big changes to the planet — protecting the health of creatures living on both land and sea.