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08/2014 Heterotrophic algae production in bioreactors by bbi-biotech

Production and application of algae are subjects of many research projects worldwide. Algae are presented as a new sustainable resource for food, feed or biofuels. The green, blue or red unicellular organisms naturally grow with light and CO2 and produce a big variety of beneficial components. But a real breakthrough of scaled phototrophic algae production has not yet occurred and some companies now concentrate on algae production without light in heterotrophic bioreactors. Hence, bbi-biotech now expands its existing portfolio of fermenters and bioreactors with high-quality cultivation systems of heterotrophic production for microalgae.

Algae Cultivation in Research and Production

Open pond for phototrophic microalgae production (c) VDI

Worldwide, algae are mainly produced in open ponds, so-called raceway ponds, and in a smaller percentage of photobioreactors. Both system types supply algae with light, nutrients and CO2 and grow them until certain harvest levels. The harvested algae are mostly processed to earn their high-value components for the organic food industry, e.g. colorants or polyunsaturated fatty acids. But the necessity of light supply sets limits to the algae production. The installations contain expensive thin translucent glass tubes or plastic plates and the volumetric biomass output is relatively low. There are just few sub-industrial algae production facilities worldwide today, as project risks are still incalculable.

World market prices of some natural colorants like the yellow-gold Lutein or the deep-blue Phycocyanin have increased in the meantime, as the supply with natural plant resources has recently become more difficult. Companies from food and healthcare sector are now interested in algae as a novel alternative for their products. But algae have to fulfil several strong purity guidelines in this field and they come under stronger price pressure. Neither open systems nor closed photobioreactors are actually capable of reaching these requirements.

Heterotrophic Algae Bioreactors by bbi-biotech

Nature has supplied many algae species with excellent properties to fulfil the mentioned requirements. They can use sugar or acetic acid for growth instead of light and CO2 – they grow heterotrophically instead of phototrophically. This allows producing algae in bioreactors and fermenters, which have been proven in classical biotechnology applications for more than 50 years.

in-situ Algenbioreactor for heterotrophic algae production

The heterotrophic algae production in the well-established bioreactor types allows several novel opportunities. The production of algae with high enrichment of certain components can reach more than twenty-fold higher cell densities than in phototrophic production. The high cell density enables downstream technologies with increased efficiency and the biological purity of the algae sets new standards. The general product applications are the same as from phototrophic production, but the highly concentrated heterotrophic algae can additionally supply inoculum biomass for other algae production installations. An expansive scale-up chain of some different bioreactors is reduced down to just one single efficient chain link.

Just a few adaptations are necessary to transform the bioreactors of the xCUBIO-series to real algae bioreactors which have been tested successfully in bbi-biotech’s lab scale photobioreactors. Special sensors can measure the content of colorants and the mixing technology can be adapted to robust as well as to sensitive algae species. In addition, the sterilizable algae bioreactors have the permission for heterotrophic cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO). The mandatory security and product safety guidelines can easily be kept by the GMP-experienced bioreactor technology.

The xCUBIO algae bioreactors can be supplied with volumes of one, five or ten in steel or glass vessels. Bigger installations up to several thousand liters cultivation volume are engineered in in-situ sterilizable constructions. The portfolio contains standardized systems as well as project specific engineering concepts.

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About bbi-biotech

The brand bbi-biotech is a well-known synonym for innovative fermenters and bioreactors. The bbi-biotech GmbH offers equipment and services for all process applications within biotechnology, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industry.

Core issues are our bioreactors and fermenters from the xCUBIO-toolbox. The modular xCUBIO-system contains predefined modules, which can quickly be arranged by client’s demands. The joint combination of newest technologies with decades of application experience allows us to supply solutions for all applications within the whole biotechnology sector. We provide turn-key bioreactor installations with own standardized vessels as well as project specific systems or disposable vessels of third-party suppliers.

Additionally, bbi-biotech provides the overall solution for automatic and sterile sampling from bioreactors and fermenters: bioPROBE. This novel system has been developed for dead-volume-free sampling of fluids to combine cultivation and downstream systems with process analytics.

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