While research efforts will continue to bring down the production cost of algae to $20/kg, because of the value intrinsic to spirulina, current market value ranges from under $10/kg to more than $1000/kg for specific purified extracts. Origin and quality of product play a significant role in pricing. However, the fact remains that there is already a global market in place for this crop. This is also opportunity to attract much higher market value while scaling operations to achieve economies of scale. Over time with increases in global production this will enable the price of spirulina protein to decrease.
Cultivation of this extraordinary, high value, high protein spirulina algae crop in Canada requires the development of a complex photobioreactor technology that enables the crop to be harvested continually or in batches every few days at much higher yields than produced by conventional open raceway pond systems found in temperate climates. Global demand for edible spirulina algae valued at nearly $400 million in 2019 is projected to more than double by 2027 (CAGR of 10.5%). Microalgae-based products have been forecast to grow at 7.9% CAGR between 2021-2028 to $2.8 billion related to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sectors. This is up from $1.5 billion in 2020. Furthermore, the cultivation of algae via photobioreactors has the ability to expand agricultural crop production because it does not require the use of existing arable farmland. There are only a few producers of this algae currently in Canada. Given the rate of growth of algae, doubling of biomass every couple of days, this extraordinary growth requires CO2 as a key nutrient. For every kg of dry algae produced requires 1.8 kg of CO2. Therefore, this crop also has a significant and positive environmental GHG impact. Where emphasis in this project is focused on production of protein, similar to other crops, the biomass can also be diverted into the production of low carbon biofuels and bioplastics.
Algae cultivation globally is increasing at an extraordinary pace. If we follow the consensus of many traditional cultivators of algae based on open raceway ponds, Canada will have no hope of competing in this emerging and exciting agricultural sector. Although there are regions across Canada with great solar irradiance with large tracts of land and water to support open pond cultivation systems, our colder climate would preclude us from competing on an economic basis since production would occur across four to six months of the year rather than year-round in more temperate climates.
Numerous plant-based protein crops alternatives are currently cultivated across Canada. To be globally competitive and for Canada to become a major protein producer and exporter, production costs must be kept below $20/kg protein.
Economic benefits from protein production, are accompanied by greenhouse gases (GHG) mitigation and through sale and licensing of the technology to algae producers globally. The technology has potential for enhanced economic benefits in a carbon economy.
This project aims to scale to a commercial level of a 10m3 and to fully automate and optimize system processes from cultivation through to harvesting, drying, and storage.
The next step in scale up operations will be to design / construct a 1m3 PBR algae cultivation platform.
Therefore, research efforts must include emphasis on reducing the energy input costs.