Algae International Berhad (AIB) has been in the forefront of developing technology to grow and process microalgae. AIB has developed the floating bed method (FBM) and recently the concentrated solar microalgae cultivation system (COSMAC). The COSMAC system is proving to be an excellent system that promises to produce algal biomass at a lower cost compared with agricultural biomass for the first time but, first a history.
From the 1950’s to the 70’s when modern research on microalgae started, excitement built up over the massive potential of microalgae for all manner of use. It resulted in the US Government undertaking a co-ordinated “moon-shot” at making microalgae a mainstream industry. They got the major universities and research stations to work together and threw large new sums of money into what was called the “Aquatic Species Program” This ran from 1976 to 1996 and the massive report produced in 1998 was generally regarded as the bible of the industry.
Jagjit Singh Kaurah (Jag), decided in 2005/2006 to dedicate the rest of his life to helping Planet Earth and its varied life and decided that growing very clean microalgae at a very low cost was a good way to do it.
He found it strange that the report, as one of its conclusions, stated that raceway ponds were the only viable way forward and that closed systems were unlikely ever to become economic. This essentially meant that the report was saying: forget about microalgae except for the 4 species out of the hundreds of thousands of species that can grow in raceway ponds.
At that time the current wisdom that closed systems of growing microalgae are unlikely ever to be economic was taken as true due to the Aquatic Species Report.
Jag decided to work on closed systems for microalgae to open the door to a vast treasure due to their massive genetic base. Microalgae are a huge untapped genetic resource.
The first patent was filed in Malaysia and also under the PCT system for the Floating Bed Method (FBM) in Feb 2007. This patent was published by WIPO in September 2008. See http://www.google.com/patents/WO2008105649A1?cl=koIt
It caused a major sensation; a low cost closed system for growing microalgae had been disclosed for the first time. Large numbers of universities, research organizations including NASA and the Weizmann Institute and many private organizations tried out the system for themselves. See the NASA program that started about 9 months after the above patent publication: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/research/OMEGA/
Commercial organisations are selling slightly modified versions of the FBM - see http://www.algasol.info/index.php/
This was a key turning point in microalgae and much of what is now happening in the microalgae world started from that patent.
The second turning point occurred in 2014 with the Concentrated Solar Microalgae Cultivation system – COSMAC
This fundamentally changes the economics of microalgae and makes algal culture competitive with agriculture for the first time. Using spirulina as a standard comparison, the productivity per ton of culture per day using COSMAC averages about 0.0548 kg spirulina, not better than the best raceway ponds but this is from a large tank of about 5,000 tons culture which reduces capital expenditure per ton culture, makes control easier and less costly and all operations compact and less expensive.
As a result, the cost of spirulina production is lower than even the very efficient and low cost Chinese with their open raceway ponds plus the algal biomass is very clean which opens the way to being able to produce quality ingredients for every biological field. Beyond that, a closed system can grow most of the hundreds of thousands of species opening up a vast treasure trove of excellent products.
All that work has been licensed to Algae International Berhad (AIB), a Malaysian unlisted public company with a view to listing when projects take off See – website http://algaeinternational.biz/
However, COSMAC requires large projects. So a simpler starting system was developed in 2015. This Simple Low Cost Microalgae cultivation system is called SILCOMS The innovation in the SILCOMS system is that a way has been found to reduce the cost of simple tanks to under 30% of what can be obtained from factories in bulk lots. However, the cost of algal biomass from this system is nearly twice that of the COSMAC system and comparable with the FBM.
AIB has now 3 major systems of growing microalgae, each with their own application.
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