Aquaculture

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BioMar partnership catapults algae oil producer into aquaculture sphere

Ingredients firm now looks for partners in shrimp, sea bass and sea bream farming.

The alternative long-chain DHA source developed by ingredients company TerraVia is one year into its commercial launch and is ramping up production, Walt Rakitsky, senior vice president of emerging business at Terravia, told IntraFish.

The strategic partnership with BioMar gave the company the platform it needed in the global salmon farming sphere, and the exclusivity deal with the feed giant on salmon feed is giving both companies an advantageous position in alternative-based aquaculture feed.

“There’s been a lot of hype about alternative ingredients, but in this case it is happening, BioMar is using the product for its feed and is selling it to salmon producers in Norway, Chile and Scotland,” Rakitsky said.

The company produces the DHA AlgaPrime in Brazil, far from the Amazon, Rakitsky pointed out. It grows algae in closed fermentation tanks, using sustainable sucrose from certified sugar canes, which it turns into DHA-rich oil in a short period of time.

The location of the processing plant, in Sao Paulo, ensures proximity with the non-genetically modified, water-fed sugar cane, reducing costs.

In addition, sugar cane in Brazil is fermented and turned into low-carbon ethanol, transforming the raw material into green electrons used to generate electricity with a very low footprint, another environmental benefit of using the plant for the production of the DHA ingredient.

Although fish resources for omega-3 oils are in recovery after the end of El Nino off the coasts of Peru and Chile, and levels of raw material of these origins are expected to reach highs this year, Rakitsky is confident the search for alternatives will continue.

“It takes time to develop technologies, and yes there is now more availability of raw material but one thing is true: there is a limited amount of resources, the supply from the sea is fixed and we need to compensate it with other sources,” he said.

“For aquaculture to grow responsibly, there have to be alternatives to be used to complement current supply, it’s not about replacing it.”

Rakitsky referred to a study published in October 2016 by the University of Stirling suggesting omega-3 levels in farmed salmon have halved in the past five years.

“Salmon farming has reached a low in levels of omega-3, both fish and humans need higher levels and it’s not going to come from the sea," he said.

"This kind of technology will help reach the levels of fatty acids that we need.”

Non-GM is a plus

The fact that the product uses non-GM crops is important for TerraVia since its market is largely based in the European Union, where GM is not regulated. Norway is responding particularly well to this attribute.

However, Rakitsky sees opportunities for different types of technology, including GM crops, in the future.

There’s been a lot of progress, and we are going to need all technologies. GM crops will be coming soon, but they are not here today, and we are. Our product is not an experiment anymore,” he said.

TerraVia produces oils for other industries, such as the cosmetics market, but entering aquaculture has been the right move, and the timing is ideal.

“We are going to see a lot of initiatives establish, there’s many companies working in this area, and aquaculture is growing more and more. We are delivering, many people in the industry have heard about research and the need of alternatives, but until now companies were not delivering,” he said.

Raw material challenges

However, TerraVia's ingredients are also based on natural resources, and as with any other raw material, there are factors affecting the production and prices.

The main drivers that determine the price and availability of the DHA AlgaPrime are the costs of the sugar, the efficiency of the production of the algae, the output, and the yield of oil per kilo of sugar, Rakitsky said.

Although the ingredient is not meant to be a replacement for fish oil, at the moment, the company is studying how low feed producers can go on fish oil when using DHA AlgaPrime without compromising the quality of the feed.

Looking forward into the future, he said the technology has the potential to be used on its own in the composition of feed.

Expanding to other sectors

At the moment, TerraVia is looking for partners to launch the feed ingredient to the shrimp market in particular.

“We are looking at all fish farming sectors that depend on fish oil, obviously catfish or tilapia are not markets for us, but shrimp and Mediterranean seabass and seabream offer great opportunities,” he said.

TerraVia plans to introduce the ingredient in Asia, and it could be looking into another partnership with BioMar to supply sea bream and bass producers in Greece and Turkey.

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